Sat, May 10, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Mass famine in N Korea a matter of time: group

AP , SEOUL

North Koreans are dying because of food shortages in rural areas and a massive famine is just a matter of time, a South Korean aid group said yesterday.

The food situation was as bad as the famine that hit the country in the mid-1990s, which left as many as 2 million people dead, Seoul-based Good Friends — a Buddhist-affiliated group that sends food and other aid to the North — cited an unidentified North Korean official yesterday as saying.

“So far, mass deaths have not occurred as people have become more used to [starvation] than in the 1990s, but famine is a matter of time,” the official was quoted as saying by the aid group.

Good Friends also quoted Kim Ki-nam, 39, a resident of Sariwon, south of Pyongyang, as saying one or two deaths were happening every day in rural areas around the city.

North Korea has relied on foreign assistance to help feed its 23 million people since the middle of the 1990s.

This year’s food situation has worsened because last year’s harvests were hampered by devastating floods. The North also has refused to ask for help from South Korea after a new conservative government took office in February that has been critical of the Pyongyang regime.

The aid group urged North Korea to acknowledge the situation’s seriousness and ask for international help to prevent massive famine. It also urged South Korea to soften its position on the North and offer aid without waiting for Pyongyang’s request.

The World Food Programme warned last month the North faces a food crisis, saying the country’s annual food deficit is expected to nearly double from last year to 1.83 million tonnes.

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