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NKorea, land of hunger, made nukes priority

by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) May 25, 2009
North Korea, which said Monday it had tested both a nuclear device and a short-range missile, has defiantly pursued its atomic ambitions even though it is unable to feed its own people.

The country suffered famine for several years starting in 1995 which killed hundreds of thousands of people and left survivors subsisting on leaves, tree bark and whatever else they could find.

Floods, followed by drought and tidal waves, were partly responsible, but analysts mostly blame the collectivist agricultural system and inefficient distribution network.

In 2002 the regime introduced limited reforms to the centralised command economy, allowing some flexibility in state-set prices and granting incentives to workplaces and workers.

But in October 2005, apparently fearful of relaxing its grip, the regime banned private grain sales and announced a return to centralised food rationing.

Now again, following successive poor harvests, the World Food Programme (WFP) expects up to 40 percent of the population will urgently need food aid in the coming months.

Last September, the WFP made a worldwide appeal for up to 504 million dollars of food aid for North Korea, but so far only 11 percent of that has been received -- enough to feed about 1.8 million people.

Given this history of hardship in a nation of about 24 million, the regime's plans to test a nuclear weapon might not seem a likely priority.

But the North, with a half-century of unrelenting hostility to Washington, blames what it calls US threats to attack it and weaken it through sanctions for its need to have a nuclear deterrent.

North Korea staged a first atomic weapons test in October 2006.

Under a six-party agreement reached in February 2007 including the United States, the North made its nuclear disclosure and agreed to disable the ageing Yongbyon complex, the source of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

But after UN censure of the North's rocket launch on April 5, which the US and other nations said was a disguised ballistic missile test, Pyongyang said it was pulling out of the six-party deal and would resume plutonium production.

The regime's iron grip is being loosened to some extent by the smuggling of radios, DVD players and South Korean DVDs from China. This month, it launched a limited Internet service for mobile phone users.

But the regime still attempted to control all information and "subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives," according to a 2007 human rights report by the US State Department.

It noted continued reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners.

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SKorea military forms crisis team after nuke test report
Seoul (AFP) May 25, 2009
South Korea's military on Monday formed a "crisis management" team of general-level officers after North Korea announced it had carried out a nuclear test, the defence ministry said. "Top military officials led by the defence minister are holding an emergency meeting after forming a crisis management team," a ministry spokesman said. A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said troops ... read more







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