GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 159

Research Institute for North Korean Society
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/eng


North Korea Today 159th Edition July 2008

“Research Institute for North Korean Society of Good Friends, in order to bring news of the food crisis in North Korea more accurately and quickly, will increase its e-newsletter frequency to more than one issue per week. As such, the release dates might shift. Thank you for your understanding and attention to this looming crisis. We at Good Friends hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.”


Pyongyang City Rationed Potatoes As Small As Pingpong Balls to the Neighboring Areas
Long Distance Calls Prohibited In Pyongyang Due To the Spread of News of Starvation in Hwanghae Province
The Former Prime Minister, Yeon Hyung-mook, Was Very Much Interested in the Lives of People
Sentenced For Selling Beef for Wife in Childbed
Yeonsa County Gave a Lecture on “About Food Situation”
An Old Soldier in Sakju County Died of Starvation
“If He wants Unification He Must Think of People First”
[Opinion] South Korean Government Should Join the Humanitarian Aid with More Positive Attitude


Pyongyang City Rationed Potatoes As Small As Pingpong Balls to the Neighboring Areas
For June ration, residents of Central Districts of Pyongyang City received crushed maize and long grain rice noodles. However, the neighboring areas either received only potatoes or nothing. Ryang Jeong-ah (27) said, “I received potatoes but was disappointed because they were as small as pingpong balls. But even that is better than nothing.” There are districts which didn’t receive any ration, and their complaints, “We have nothing to eat. How are we going to live?” are getting higher.

Long Distance Calls Prohibited In Pyongyang Due To the Spread of News of Starvation in Hwanghae Province
Through word of mouth, the news of starvation death in South Hwanghae Province is spreading to North Hamgyong Province and other areas. The Party is taking pains to prohibited talks about food situation between local officials and residents. Thus, on June 15th, it prohibited any calls to out of city nationwide except Pyongyang, and on June 20th, even Pyongyang was prohibited from making long distance calls. Other than high governmental officials, people have to go through post office telephone operators to communicate to outside cities. This measure was taken because despite the prohibition, news from all over the country is spreading and (they) judged that the spread of news was through Pyongyang where out of city calls had been allowed. It is assumed that in Pyongyang, people can find the news in other areas and then relay them to the national border area through phone calls.

The Former Prime Minister, Yeon Hyung-mook, Was Very Much Interested in the Lives of People
Local officials and residents talk about recent food crisis and often say that the former prime minister, Mr. Yeon was much more interested in the lives of residents. Ryu Chung-won (49) in Sariwon says, “He held a lot of national agricultural meetings and personally visited many farms to better understand the situation.” He expressed his opinion that the current food crisis needs his (Mr. Yeon’s) methods. Jung Seong-chul (52) says, “The reason people talk about him and commemorate his achievements came from their deep desperation on the current food crisis. They can’t directly criticize the current government or express their dissatisfaction, so they cannot but say Mr. Yeon did well at that time.” Anyway, people feel frustrated about the current crisis where there is no specific solutions.

Sentenced For Selling Beef for Wife in Childbed
Kim Kwan-mo (38) was arrested for selling beef in Sunam Market in Chungjin, North Hamgyong. He is accused of stealing a free-grazing cow and selling its meat in the market. (He did it) because he had nothing to feed his wife who gave birth only one month ago. Had he slaughtered a laboring cow (부림소), he could have been sentenced to re-education, or even extreme penalty. But because he slaughtered young free-grazing cow (방목소) he received relatively light punishment of 6 months in Labor Detention Center(노동단련대).

Where the agricultural machines are extremely in short supply, cows are very important tool in farming. Therefore, a healthy cow can cost as high as 400,000 won, and ordinary ones cost about 300,000 won. Because of high price not many farms have sufficient number of cows. Only 1-2 cows per farm are common. These days, even cows often die of disease due to lack of food. Slaughtering a laboring cow in this situation causes a huge damage to farming, and it merits severe punishment.

Yeonsa County Gave a Lecture on “About Food Situation”
On June 19th, Yeonsa County, North Hamgyong Province, held public meetings with the subject, “About Food Situation.” The basic tenet was, “This year, due to the coalition blocking by the Imperialist America and its allies as well as the natural disaster, our food crisis became more and more desperate. Every one of us should rise up and exercise the Self-Reliance Spirit to increase food production by even one more grain, and to destroy coalition of blocking by America and its allies.” In addition, it expressed that contrary to the policy that controlled the cultivation of small plots or mountain-side plots, “Because Yeonsa County has lots of mountains and forests, people should recognize this reality and should plant in mountain slopes, between the trees, and everywhere they can, in order to increase even one grain of food.” Residents who attended the meeting complained that this lecture is too late because the farming season has already passed.

An Old Soldier in Sakju County Died of Starvation
Lim Jin-chul (78) in Sakju, North Pyongan, was a war veteran and lived with a small amount of food ration. This year, even the small food ration stopped and he petitioned to the local government asking for food. In June, the food rationing was not resumed, and he died after suffering pneumonia for 5 days. His veteran friends petitioned to military officials responsible for veteran’s welfare, asking for more care for the old veterans.

“If He wants Unification He Must Think of People First”
In the midst of toughening of North Korean authorities’ position against South Korea, some officials that were concerned about the unification of Koreas express their worries. An official in Pyongyang says, “We as well as the general public had no animosity against South Korea when Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun were the presidents. All the officials knew that they provided us rice, food, fertilizer, and cloths. We need fertilizer for farming, but we’re not getting it this year. Ever since the Grand National Party came into power and Lee Myung-Bak became the president they have become very mean, and people are raising their voice deploring that. When Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun were the presidents, there were no propaganda broadcasting against North and the tension in the Jeon-yeon area (area confronting the enemy) was relaxed. Now, the tension is rising again.”

Not only the officials but also the general public has bad impressions about President Lee Myung-Bak. If he wants unification he should think of people first. He claims that he could help boosting North Korea’s per capita income to $3,000 with his ‘Nadulsom’ plan (creation of inter-Korean cooperation zones). President Kim Il-Song also told us that he would let us eat rice and meat soup, but that never happened. Then, a countless number of people died during the Arduous March(고난의 행군). As such, who in the whole North Korea would believe President Lee Myung-Bak’s words? They say they feel offended. People think he is ridiculing us, and looking down on us because we are poor. He should tell us so if he doesn’t want to provide food aid. We also have our self- esteem. The officials and the general public have consensus about this issue, and we vow not to beg for food if they continue to make fun of us. It is quite natural for us to say that we would never beg for help first. We would rather die out of hunger. These sentiments are not likely to subside easily.” He expressed his concerns about the possibility of prolonged stand-off between the South and the North.

[Opinion] South Korean Government Should Join the Humanitarian Aid with More Positive Attitude
Despite the continuing news of North Korean people’s deaths by starvation the South and North Korean governments are playing a boring psychological game over the issues of sending 50,000 tons of corns. South Korea’s initial negative position toward humanitarian aid has turned around to some extent. However, at the moment they do not have a scheme that will revive the frozen relationship with the North. Both South and North Korean governments are not in a position to leisurely watch the situation. For North Korea, the food aid from the international community including the United States is speeding up due to partial advancement of North Korean nuclear issues. Nevertheless, that is far from enough to fill the urgent food shortage during the “season of spring shortage” (춘궁기철).

Although they are internally prohibiting any requests for food aid from South Korea, the officials who engage in trades or overseas activities are trying very hard to obtain as much food as they can. They cannot receive food directly from South Korea. However, they are making efforts to acquire food saying, anything is allowed as long as a Chinese party is involved as mediator. Also, they are asking some South Korean civilian agencies to send grains for cattle. While receiving food is not allowed they are eager to receive grains for cattle.

Now it is not easy for South Korean government to stick to the previous position of linking humanitarian aid with the strict principle of reciprocity or human rights issues. The news of deepening North Korean food shortage problem is appealing to public sentiments for humanitarian aid, and the countries of the six-party talk except South Korea, and the European Union, as well as the international relief agencies is joining the North Korean aid. Moreover, North Korea is taking full advantage of the demolition of Youngbyun nuclear cooling tower in their efforts to improve international relations. Since South Korean government has subordinated its North Korean policy under the foreign relations issue of denuclearization with the six-party talks, they don’t seem to have any options other than the 50,000 tons of corns they have already promised to offer. North Korea has already declined the 50,000 tons of corns South Korea has offered. So, rehashing the issue of 50,000 tons of corns and asking for North Korea’s official response can only provoke North Korean government even further. In a way, it sounds like South Korea’s plea to the North to accept the aid. Given that South Korean government has already declared that North Korean food shortage problem is not serious, they cannot avoid the criticism of “give away” if they provide 50,000 tons of corns to North Korea. Otherwise, perhaps all that’s left is seeking the moral obligation of providing assistance if a big flooding occurs in the summer. (The South Korean Government) should use the humanitarian aid not as poor excuse to avoid the reality but as their moral imperative.

“North Korea’s food shortage problem is serious. We understand the gaps in viewpoints and conflicts between the South and North. However, we will join the effort as neighbors as well as fellow Koreans to relieve the pain of North Korean people who are suffering from food shortage. As such, South Korean government will provide 200,000 tons of food to North Korea as an emergency relief. We urge North Korean government to come to the table to discuss this issue.” They need to approach the situation with a positive attitude like this.

North Korean authorities should gratefully accept South Korean government’s humanitarian aid if they are concerned about the difficulties North Korean people are facing, and they should do their best to distribute the food immediately to those who are on the verge of famine in the countryside and to those who are impoverished in the urban areas. Korea’s status in the international community will be enhanced when the South and the North Korean governments show their concerted efforts with regard to humanitarian assistance issues.

Let us emphasize this once more: the North Korean food shortage problem is serious. The South Korean government should provide an immediate aid of 200,000 tons even without the request for help, and then ask for transparency of the distribution. The North Korean government should accept the aid with gratitude, and distribute the food to those who are in need first. We urge the North Korean government to make a request for more food from South Korea if food shortage persists. The South Korean government should provide additional aid if there is a further request. Through these exchanges, both South and North Korean governments can save their face and save the people in North Korea. We sincerely hope that both parties will seek a mutually beneficial solution to this problem.



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