Ur Place

June 8, 2008

Father slays family as hunger returns to haunt North Korea

Filed under: Lifestyle — halfevil @ 3:52 pm

THE first case of murder and suicide caused by North Korea’s new food crisis has emerged with the account of a man who killed his hungry wife and children and then took his own life in despair.

The family’s precarious existence became desperate after officials forbade the wife and other vendors to sell noodles in a local market, their only source of income. Such arbitrary rulings are common.

This one led to a fight between the wife and her husband. Neighbours heard the sounds as he battered her to death, then strangled his three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, but took it as one of their regular domestic disputes. The husband hanged himself from a beam.

The deaths caused widespread shock in a society where family bonds are revered. They set off a mobilisation of Korean Workers’ party cadres and collective farm managers to keep watch on households at risk of starvation.

The report was published on an exile website, Daily NK, and quoted North Korean witnesses contacted by telephone in Shin-yang county, a poor rural area. It was a rare piece of apparently credible evidence that North Korea – which lost about a million people to famine in the 1990s – is once again running out of food.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that North Korea is facing the widest gap between demand and supply for seven years and needs 1.6m tons of commodities to feed its population.

Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP country director for North Korea, fears that the nation “may suffer deeper and more widespread hunger this year”. Some 37% of children are already chronically malnourished and prone to disease.

A South Korean aid group has reported the outbreak of a mysterious illness resembling foot and mouth disease among young children in a particularly impoverished province on the border with China.

The immediate causes of the present crisis are floods that wrecked last year’s harvest, a cut in foreign aid and the doctrinaire economics of Kim Jong-il’s Stalinist system.

As in Burma, however, the plight of the ordinary people is being made worse by political conditions attached by the regime to foreign aid.

The United States is ready to ship 500,000 tons of food to North Korean ports – enough to avoid short-term starvation. This remedy, however, is being deliberately delayed.

A specialist US technical team spent three days locked in negotiations in Pyongyang, the capital, last weekend to try to get the North Koreans to agree on how the food could be distributed, according to sources familiar with the talks.

The issues under dispute included whether the United States could monitor the aid, whether American citizens could be on the team, and how much notice the monitors would give for any spot inspections, the sources said.

In the past, some international aid has been diverted by Kim’s regime to the army and the internal security forces, while priority is always given to privileged parts of the country such as Pyongyang.

“It’s meticulous stuff, just what Kim Jong-il loves,” said an official briefed on the issues. “The North Koreans were the tougher negotiators – even though they are the recipients.”

The technical team left Pyongyang last Tuesday after reaching an outline accord but veteran diplomatic observers of North Korea predicted there will be endless haggling ahead.

The reasons are connected to North Korea’s efforts to stall, until President George W Bush leaves office next January, an agreement on giving up its nuclear weapons.

Although the United States denies any linkage, the decision to assist the North Koreans followed progress in talks between Christopher Hill, the senior US nuclear negotiator, and his North Korean counterparts.

Conservative critics of Hill’s diplomacy say the process is a charade. They point to gestures such as North Korea’s promise to blow up a long-disused cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor plant as evidence that it is meaningless.

However, Hill has convinced the White House and four other nations in the talks – China, Japan, South Korea and Russia– that they are worthwhile.

It seems that China, formally North Korea’s closest military and political ally, has decided to exert some rare pressure on the regime.

In the first quarter of this year, the Chinese are thought to have sent more than 70,000 tons of food across the border, but in April all exports were cut off.

The apparent reason is that China is putting its own interests first in the face of the global food price crisis and that Chinese leaders want to ensure price stability in the run-up to the Olympic Games.

In doing so, the Chinese ignored the requests for continued aid from a high-level North Korean delegation that visited Beijing last March.

South Korea has also tightened the screw on Kim since the election of a new conservative president and parliament in the face of vituperative abuse from the North. Much-needed supplies of fertiliser and food have been stopped.


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