SEOUL, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- North Korea's state security department is wiretapping the homes of people whose family members defected.
A source in North Hamgyong Province told South Korean news service Daily NK that state surveillance of defectors' families is growing to be a source of distress for people in the area.
"Security officers pay direct visits to the families of defectors to probe their activities, but sometimes they disguise themselves as merchants to monitor their movements," the source said.
The source added that in one case, a North Korean security agent stopped by a house "for a drink," then "secretly placed a wiretap device under the table."
"The resident of the household asked why the device was installed but the security agent denied placing the wiretap," the source said.
Residents have also found hidden wires on their bicycles.
"Because they do not know who installed the device, the families of defectors are under tremendous stress," the source said, adding that when a person who is not a relative stops by, families are saying they need to inspect their homes for hidden bugs afterwards.
Local residents are also wary of unexpected visits by security agents and are refraining from speaking out loud on topics that may lead to questioning.
North Korea has stepped up crackdowns on defections under Kim Jong Un.
A source in South Pyongan Province said the state is bolstering propaganda about the regime, and making claims "all would be forgiven" if defectors return to the North.
"But locals are not being fooled. They know 'forgiveness' is lip service and [returnees] would be under surveillance until they die."
There are now nearly 30,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea, and those who were separated in the course of fleeing the country are often reunited.
According to South Korean news service Bridge News, two North Korean sisters recently met each other after 13 years of separation.
The siblings, both in their forties, believed they would never see each other again. They met during a kimchi-making event being held for defectors on Saturday, according to the report.