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.
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.
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.