Wednesday, October 25, 2006

postal scrotum: LiNK makes Reuters

I received the following by email from a LiNK source:

North Korea nuclear row sharpens humanitarian fears

WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - An already dire humanitarian situation in North Korea looks set to worsen this winter after the impoverished country's nuclear brinkmanship resulted in sanctions and intensified scrutiny, aid workers and experts said on Friday.

North Korea has still not recovered from famine in the 1990s that experts believe killed about 2.5 million people, or 10 percent of the population. United Nations sanctions imposed after North Korea's Oct. 9 underground nuclear test do not cover food and humanitarian supplies and aid groups say they have been assured that the curbs won't bar them from operating in the country.

A day after North Korea announced its nuclear test, the World Food Program, the U.N.'s food relief arm, warned that it could be forced to halt distributions as early as January without more donations. Donors had committed only 10 percent of the $102 million the WFP sought last June North Korea, with only Ireland and Australia contributing.

Food aid from South Korea and China has also been scaled down, with Chinese relief down to a third of 2005 levels, WFP officials have said. "If the Chinese were to cut off their food program, there would be a more acute crisis," said the aid official. "There is a critical medicine shortage and there has been for the last decade because they spend their money on a million-man army instead of medicine."

U.S. activist Adrian Hong, whose group Liberty in North Korea helps refugees gain asylum in Western countries, said a recent tour of the region left him "very worried at the moment for the people we have in our shelters." China has stepped up security on its border with North Korea, a move that may have represented compliance with U.N. sanctions on illicit weapons trade.

But Hong said China was also fencing part of the border in a sign it might be trying to "eliminate the refugee problem by stopping refugees entirely."

"Once those fences go up and this winter gets difficult, more people are going to try to leave," said Hong, who talked with recent refugees in China last week and said all relayed accounts of hunger and malnutrition.

Marcus Noland, a scholar at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, said low grain output this year due to floods, appears to reflect hoarding by farmers after the state seized crops last year. "In certain areas, it's clear the government just sent the army in to take grain," said Noland. History and the political structure of North Korea suggests the army will pass the pain of sanctions on to the population.

"The military is going to get the resources it needs and ultimately the burden of these sanctions is going to be felt by common people," said Noland.

Just spreading the word. More:

N Korea food shortages "critical"

North Korean food shortages have grown worse after its recent nuclear test led donors to withdraw aid, the UN says. The UN official monitoring human rights in North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, said the food shortage was critical. North Korea is already short of food and this year floods have damaged the harvest, making matters even worse.

President Kim Jong-Il's nuclear test has led to international condemnation of the secretive regime and sanctions against its nuclear programme. Pyongyang was due to receive 100,000 tonnes of food aid but will now get less than that, Mr Muntarbhorn said "Matters became ultra-complicated because of the missile test in July as well as the nuclear test recently, which prodded various potential contributors to reconsider giving the aid," he said.

"So there has been this sad and regrettable linkage between the various tests and the impact on the food situation."

And even more:

Thai police detain 83 North Koreans in raid

24 Oct 2006 13:01:17 GMT

Thailand violence

BANGKOK, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Thai police detained 83 North Koreans in a raid on a Bangkok apartment block on Tuesday in what appeared to be the latest group of refugees spirited out of the isolated hardline communist state.

The North Koreans, who had been living in the northern suburb of Pathum Thani for nearly one month, were being questioned at a local police station, Lt. Col Nikorn Chaivirawong told Reuters.

A South Korean man was also arrested in Tuesday's raid on the Ekpathum Apartments, a five-storey building where the North Koreans had occupied the entire fourth floor.

"He will face charges of bringing illegal immigrants into the country," Nikorn said of the South Korean whom he did not name.

It was not known how the group -- including 15 children -- had entered Thailand, but they may have followed the same route as other refugees, Nikorn said.

Last month, a group of 159 North Koreans were released after serving a 30-day jail sentence for illegal entry and allowed to leave Thailand.

Their destination was not made public, but it was likely South Korea, which almost always grants citizenship to asylum seekers from the North and which has lent tacit support to fugitive groups in the past.

That group was arrested in a police raid on a Bangkok house in August after being smuggled out of North Korea and into Thailand via China and eastern Myanmar.

Several organisations run by Christians or human rights activists and former North Korean refugees are known to be at work helping people get to South Korea.

To avoid a crackdown in China, which has deported some fugitives, they are shifting operations to countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

According to Seoul's Unification Ministry, 1,054 North Koreans made it to the South in the first seven months of 2006 -- an increase of nearly 60 percent over the same period in 2005.

Come on, Thailand! Actually, it would be nice if those refugees continued on their way to South Korea.


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