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N.K. farmers vow to send rice to military

Starving North Koreans have been conducting aggressive campaigns to deliver rice to their 1.2 million-strong active military, the South Korean government said Sunday, as disputes continue over the conditions in the communist state.

North Korean farmers vowed to “carry out active campaigns to send more rice to the military” during a July 4 assembly, the Seoul government said, quoting a recently acquired Pyongyang radio report.

Pyongyang’s official news agency and TV station appear to have deliberately omitted the part about the campaign in their reports earlier this month, it said.

While the report backs South Korea’s concerns that the iron-fisted North Korean regime will use donated food to feed its military rather than the general public, it also indicates that the communist state may be suffering from immense food shortages.

North Korea, which has relied on outside assistance to feed its population of 24 million since the mid-1990s, has been increasing calls for international aid.

Based on its own assessment, the United Nations’ food agency had asked countries to donate 434,000 tons of food to North Korea in March, claiming food must be sent at least to women and children despite Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear ambitions.

South Korea and the U.S., which has stayed lukewarm toward resuming full-scale food aid, suspect the North’s Kim Jong-il regime may be stockpiling rice to prepare for potential war or to release on the 100th anniversary of its late founder Kim Il-sung’s birthday next year.

The right wing ruling bloc here has said Pyongyang has at least 1 million tons of military rice accumulated, quoting unidentified sources.

The Kim regime has often refused to let outsiders monitor its food distribution process, triggering suspicions that most of the outside aid is being used to feed its army and political elite.

“We plan to expand monitoring over the food conditions among the most vulnerable sector in the North,” a Seoul official said on the condition of anonymity, as local charity groups have been moving to resume sending aid to the impoverished state despite a government ban.

Humanitarian groups in Seoul have criticized their government for making light of North Korea’s food shortages, claiming even soldiers are in dire need for food.

Good Friends, one of South Korea’s major aid groups to the North, said Sunday that a growing number of soldiers are escaping the military and committing theft against civilian households to get food.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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