MANY IN NORTH KOREA DONT KNOW FOOD AID GETS DIVERTED


2004-01-11
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Citizens believe international community is starving them out

Many North Koreans are unaware that international food aid to their isolated Stalinist country is frequently diverted to feed the military and bureaucrats, believing government propaganda that rest of the world is starving the country out, RFA's Korean service reports.

Serious food shortages still occur throughout the country, but international food aid seems to achieve little in the way of relief. In a recent interview with a North Korean defector now living in the South, RFA learned that most of the country still believes that the international community is deliberately refusing to help.

�North Koreans don�t realize that the United Nations is trying to help North Korea�s food problem. They think the United States and South Korea are trying to isolate North Korea economically, so that North Korea can find itself in a militarily vulnerable situation,� said defector Jung Il Young, whose name has been changed to protect his identity.

�All the aid sent to North Korea has been distributed to privileged people among the military or government, so most North Koreans do not know what is really happening,� he said.

�Some people in North Ham-Gyung Province, Yang-Gang, Ja-Gang, and North Pyung-Ahn provinces have started to realize the actual situation somewhat, but people in South Ham-Gyung Province and more southerly provinces, such as Kang-Won and Hwang-Hae, do not know about the reality,� Jung added.

Ordinary North Koreans are still experiencing severe food shortages despite rice shipments from South Korea totaling 40 tonnes in 2003. �The rice is always for maintaining power, not for helping people survive. So those who really need the food cannot take advantage of it,� Jung said.

In September 2003, Japanese and South Korean human rights activists shot video footage showing international food aid for sale at inflated prices on the North Korean black market, RFA's Korean service reports.

The video, shot last month in Haesan, a North Korean town bordering China, showed what the group said was a market at which bags of rice labeled �United States,� �ROK� {South Korea], and �WFP� [World Food Programme] were offered for sale.

While no independent confirmation was available, many defectors have said the footage prompted a crackdown on the border area and tightened security measures�including monitoring of all contact between North Koreans and the outside world.

North Korea has relied on international aid to feed its 22 million people since the mid-1990s, after a series of weather-related disasters wreaked havoc on its already moribund economy. Hundreds of thousands of people, if not far more, are thought to have died of hunger over the last decade.#####

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