Saturday, October 14, 2006

Land of starvation where the fat man rules

From The Australian, 14oct06, by Jasper Becker...

...."It was on a riverbank near the bridge in our small town," she says. "Before the prisoners were shot, an official read out their crimes. He said, 'This is a father who killed his daughter and boiled the corpse to make soup while mother was away. When she returned and asked: where did you get this food? He claimed it was a dog but it was his daughter'. "I witnessed many executions. They did it to terrorise people. Small children would watch them too," she says. "But you got used to seeing dead people everywhere."

This is the reality of life under North Korea's ... Kim Jong-il, a tyrant so desperate to build a nuclear bomb .... that he ...allow[ed] at least three million of his people to starve to death since coming to power.

....Throughout the ...[great North Korean famine of the 1990s ], Kim Jong-il was the only fat man in the country. He was obsessed with only eating the best, bringing in chefs from Italy, China and Japan. One of them who wrote a book under the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto described how he was sent to Iran and Uzbekistan to buy caviar, China for melons and grapes, Thailand and Malaysia for durians and papayas, the Czech Republic for Pilsner beer, Denmark to fetch bacon and regularly to Japan to buy tuna and other fresh fish.

O Yong-hui, a petite slender woman with a pale porcelain complexion and almond eyes, was a member of Kim's happiness teams of dancers and masseuses. While members of her family lived in destitution, Miss O says she wore hand-made Italian shoes and Japanese designer clothes such as Yamoto, Kenzo and Mori. On her wrist was an Omega watch inscribed with Kim's name.
Swiss trade statistics show that in 1998 North Korea imported $US2.7 million worth of Omega watches. At breakfast she enjoyed French croissants, fresh yoghurt and imported fruits because Kim said they must have clear and healthy skins. At lunch there was fresh raw fish, Japanese style, and at dinner there were Korean or Western dishes.

"We ate off porcelain dishes inlaid with roses and used silver tableware," she says. "Everything was imported and nothing I have ever seen in South Korea is as good." Kim was an alcoholic who went on three-day drinking binges. At a sprawling residency in Pyongyang, he had a cellar stocked with 10,000 bottles of wine and often started the day by sampling a few bottles of vintage bordeaux or burgundy.

Kim Chol, a 30-year-old electrical engineer at the Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Mill, fled to China after he was caught stripping copper out of machines to sell to Chinese traders.
"The authorities executed 300 people in 1995 for stealing copper," Kim Chol says. "It didn't stop it happening because people knew if they didn't steal, they would soon die of starvation anyway." The steelworks had been one of North Korea's most important enterprises. But steel production stopped in 1993 when China halted free deliveries of coking coal. Two years later, his family had nothing left to eat or sell, even though his father was a journalist on a party newspaper and his mother was a hospital doctor. In his mother's hospital, there was nothing to treat the sick but medical herbs collected in the mountains. The existence of mass starvation and death could never be admitted in any official way. "Nobody in North Korea dies of starvation, the doctors have come up with another cause of death like liver failure," he says.

Choi Seung-cheol worked in another hospital in Chongjin and reckons that more than 200,000 died in the town, although by this time North Korea was receiving large-scale aid deliveries. He worked without any medicine supplies and was certain that 90 per cent of the foreign aid was confiscated. "They kept everything for themselves," he says.

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