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South Korean Aid Group Releases Video Testimonies Of North's Food Crisis


A South Korean human rights group has released what it says are video interviews with influential North Koreans to underscore their urgent plea for international food aid for the North. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

"In some districts, workers have not received a month's worth of rations. This is the reason why workers are not coming to their factories,” an unidentified Korean said.

A South Korean aid group is releasing this new video to underscore their urgent plea that food aid be sent to North Korea.

Seoul-based "Good Friends", a group active in the North, say the isolated North is at the brink of another famine such as the one that occurred in the mid-1990s. Up to a million North Koreans are estimated to have died of starvation or malnutrition.

Now, the group has released video interviews with North Koreans who are disguised for their safety. Good Friends implies they are North Korean officials-- describing them only as "substantially" influential in the North.

The group says one or two people are dying each day in every district of several of North Korea's southern provinces, which were hardest hit by last year's heavy flooding.

One North Korean man says farmers have consumed all of their seed corn and grain and are suffering the most. Hunger has also brought education to a halt.

"Teachers are saying that if food conditions remain in this precarious state, children will not report to school regularly,” he said. “When the teachers try to get the students to come to school, they are always told that either the children have to go begging for food with their parents, or that they are lying in bed because of starvation."

A North Korean woman says there are clear indications even the privileged North Korean capital is experiencing food troubles. "Even in Pyongyang, things are really difficult,” she said. “Beginning early this year, there were a number of commands coming from the Defense Committee of Kim Jong Il that the food for Pyongyang should be guaranteed. We were (only) able to provide one or two installments of the food rations, despite our hard efforts."

Pomnyun, the Buddhist monk who is the President of Good Friends, says deaths from starvation are occurring in rural areas for now-- but may soon take place in North Korea's cities.

"Once we mass hunger deaths get started in urban settings, it is going to be very visible,” Pomnyun said. “People are going to go through some very disturbing emotions about what is happening."

Good Friends says the hunger problem is compounded by North Korea's unequal food distribution system, which ranks ordinary civilians far below party officials and members of the military. The system excludes farmers altogether.