430 North Koreans Die Of Hunger In Past Month
Wed Jul 25, 8:15 AM ET

About 430 North Koreans have died of hunger in a northern region of the impoverished communist country in the past month because of chronic food shortages, a South Korean aid group said Wednesday.

The number of people who starved to death is also on the rise in other northern regions, with an average of four people dying per day in hospitals in each county and city in that area, the Good Friends aid agency said in a newsletter.

"The death toll could be even higher as we don't have full statistics in the North," Erica Kang, a spokeswoman for the aid agency, told The Associated Press.

North Korean authorities have said illnesses were to blame for the deaths but they were caused by long-term malnutrition, the aid agency said, citing an unidentified doctor in the North.

The aid agency did not say how it obtained the information. Some of its previous reports inside the isolated country have later been confirmed. The group released a similar report earlier this month, saying the North's food situation was worsening.

The Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said it could not confirm the report.

Despite the food shortages, the North doled out food rations to people in the capital, Pyongyang, the agency said, in an apparent move to draw loyalty from the country's top elite.

The North also supplied food to the military, easing its complaints and enabling the military to regain stability, said the aid agency.

The North's leader Kim Jong Il has placed top priority on the military, channeling the country's scarce resources to the military under his "songun," or military-first policy.

South Korea one of the North's major aid donors has begun to send 400,000 tons of rice to help ease food shortages. But the entire delivery was expected to take up to five months to be completed, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.

South Korea sent 10,500 tons of rice to the North last month as part of emergency food aid pledged last year following devastating floods.

However, North Korean officials voiced skepticism on South Korea's food aid, according to Good Friends, saying it is a quick fix that cannot resolve the country's food shortages.

North Korea has relied on foreign food aid since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid-1990s and led to a famine estimated to have killed as many as 2 million people.

Original article: Yahoo - AP
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