Bill Clinton was hailed a a hero for 'playing nicely with the North Koreans' to win the release of the two journalists....I wonder if he ever read this.
by Fiona Terry, Ph.D.
Staring across the frozen Tumen River into North Korea, I wonder how long it will be before we know the extent of the horror inflicted on the North Korean people by the Kim dynasty. Not a trace of smoke rises from the chimneys of the ghost town on the opposite bank despite the -25° C temperature. The only movement visible is a border guard patrolling the river bank; it is eerily silent. Etched in the snow are footprints leading down one riverbank and up the other, the mute testimony of a man's attempt to escape hunger and cold by crossing into China. Like thousands of his compatriots, he prefers to risk capture by North Korean and Chinese authorities than to watch his family starve, even though capture means imprisonment for himself and his family in North Korea's gulag. The recent launch of the 'strike hard' campaign by Chinese authorities has drastically reduced his chances of avoiding arrest and expulsion, and increased the penalties imposed on those who might be able to offer him shelter and food. Why, I wonder, do we express revulsion when reading of Stalin's gulag in the 1930s-60s; Mao's secret famine in the 1960s; or the killing fields of Pol Pot in the 1970s, yet show indifference at the plight of North Koreans today. We regret that our predecessors did not listen to the pleas of those who escaped the gulag, famine and killing fields; we chastise them for not believing that such horror could occur. But who is listening to the North Korean refugees in China now, in 2001, and who is willing to ensure their protection?
North Korea, the last bastion of Stalinism on the planet, is in the grip of an economic crisis that has provoked famine in many parts of the country. Since the end of Soviet aid a decade ago, North Korea has faced a severe energy shortage and lack of hard currency that has ground industry and mechanised farming to a halt. Yet the regime maintains the budget for its 1.1 million-strong defence force and continues to develop missile technology and to sell missiles abroad. While grandiose monuments to the grotesque personality cult of the two Kims are floodlit throughout the night, apartment blocks in the showcase capital, Pyongyang, are without electricity, and rural areas have abandoned tractors and reverted to ploughing by hand or with livestock. Mercedes Benz of the ruling elite ply the streets of the capital, while ordinary citizens dig for roots and edible plants in the grass strips lining the five-lane boulevards. Factory workers have no work and receive no salary, but must still attend the daily political education sessions before going to the hills to gather 'alternative' foods. The public distribution system on which three-quarters of the population depend for food, only provides rations on important dates, like the birthdays of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong-il, leaving people to fend for themselves. Extrapolations from testimonies of refugees in China collected by local organisations suggest that up to three and a half million people might have died from starvation and related illnesses between 1995-1998 alone. Reports of deaths continue to permeate the border, although with less frequency now: the refugees say that the weakest have already died - the elderly, the young, and the sick - leaving less mouths to feed from the meagre food available. Imagine the shock we will feel if we one day discover that there are not 23 million North Koreans as the government claims, but 15 million as some former government officials hiding in China suggest.
For the rest go to Medecins sans Frontieres