PYONGYANG, North Korea, July 21 (UPI) -- North Korea has tightened border security and increased punishments for those attempting to cross into China, forcing a drop in defectors, officials said.
As many as 20,000 soldiers have been dispatched to the Chinese border, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Those guards have been threatened with punishments of their own in an effort to stop them from taking bribes from would-be defectors, aid groups said.
"The border with China used to be essentially unguarded," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Kookmin University. "It is now very closely watched."
Lankov said the drop in defectors could be longstanding, because "the North has now invested all this money in border control," and it has seen that it works, the Times reported. "Now it's very easy to maintain it."
Along with beefed up border security, North Koreans who attempt to enter China are no longer granted leniency for saying they are simply visiting China to get money or medicine, aid groups said, adding that not only are the defectors punished, but their families are now punished, too.
A South Korean official attributed the drop in defectors to "stronger control in North Korea after the death of Kim Jong Il."
"However, we still need to closely monitor the situation before making a judgment if the current situation will continue," the official said.