Food situation in North Korea is desperate, defector says

May 03, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

SEOUL, South Korea -- A desperate food shortage has pushed most North Koreans to the brink of starvation, fueling refugee flight to China and the beginnings of popular protests, a North Korean defector said yesterday.

In a tearful account of the grim life inside the world's most secretive, isolated Communist nation, Yo Man Chol, a 48-year-old former security force captain, said that people are dying in the fields and that support for Kim Il Sung, the authoritarian regime's leader, is rapidly declining.

Mr. Yo, flanked at a packed news conference by his wife and three children, said so many North Koreans are near starvation that the normally repressive government has begun issuing internal travel permits to allow people to search for food.

Mr. Yo said "uprisings must be imminent" over the food crisis. Most people have been forced to subsist on nothing more than pickled vegetables or one bowl of corn porridge a day since last August, when the strapped government sharply reduced food supplies.

He said that several people in his apartment building had died of starvation and that people were demanding that military food supplies be released to the public, although such demands are treated harshly.

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