Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fleeing North Korea Famine Appears Not to Be an Option Arrival Sunday of a High-Level Defector in Seoul Spotlights Crisis and Urgent Need for Food Aid

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fleeing North Korea Famine Appears Not to Be an Option Arrival Sunday of a High-Level Defector in Seoul Spotlights Crisis and Urgent Need for Food Aid

Article excerpt

Most North Koreans who attempt to flee from their Stalinist nation's worsening food shortage are unlikely to make it through the wall of informers and border guards that blocks their passage to China.

North Koreans are already fleeing. But the Communist leadership of one of the most heavily guarded nations on earth is relying on the rings of security that surround virtually every North Korean to prevent a mass exodus.

The webs of Pyongyang's security apparatus, which are now entangling those who seek escape from escalating famine, extend even beyond the nation's borders, say Chinese and South Korean officials and scholars. Millions of North Koreans could face severe malnutrition or starvation if foreign food aid is not sharply increased soon. Few are expected to successfully cross the mined demilitarized zone with South Korea or the heavily guarded border with China. A famine has already begun among the North's populace, and the size of the crisis is likely to be far greater than previously estimated, say officials and scholars. The country has been running low on food for years due to an inefficient, state-run agricultural system. Flooding in recent years has worsened the situation. "The old, the weak, and the very young ... have already begun dying from hunger," says a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. A government official here says reports from Chinese who have traveled to the North in recent months paint a picture far bleaker than North Korea admits. "The fate of up to one-third of North Korea's 23 million people might rest on whether massive grain shipments are begun immediately," adds a senior South Korean official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He compares North Korea's all-encompassing security system to a checkerboard where moves from any of the closely monitored towns or villages to any other town or village required a government permit. Any would-be defector faces layers of government informers, police, and soldiers in an atmosphere of suspicion. "Except for those who live near the Chinese border, it is virtually impossible to flee from the North's widening waves of hunger," he says. …

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