In a dramatic and poignant sign of a state nearing collapse, North Korea has asked its embassies to appeal to foreign Governments for aid to feed a population close to starvation.
The plea poses a major dilemma for the international community on how to deal with a totalitarian regime which it accuses of developing a nuclear arsenal while, at the same time, facing massive and endemic deprivation.
The United States stopped food aid two years ago after continuing friction over Pyongyang's stance on atomic weaponry and South Korea has drastically reduced its contributions after a series of recent clashes.
South Korea has a contingency plan for the possible implosion of its neighbor which involves sealing the border to prevent an influx of famished refugees while sending massive amounts of aid to the North.
China, which has long served as North Korea's food supplier of last resort, faces its own food crisis as a result of a sustained drought, and, according to US State Department documents made public by WikiLeaks, Beijing has become increasingly exasperated by the Kim Jong-il Administration's seemingly intransigent stance on the nuclear issue.
The direct plea for help from all quarters is highly unusual for North Korea, which normally negotiates deliveries from organizations such as the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
[New Zealand Herald]