Wednesday, January 18, 2006

North Korean hunger for secrecy (2)

Pyongyang claims an improved harvest last year, and help from China and South Korea, will provide enough to feed its 23 million people. But outside experts are doubtful.

A more likely reason for stopping incoming food aid is to keep foreigners away and increase the already tight control by Kim's regime. That's clear from North Korea's offer to let the U.N. agency stay in the country if it helps with such things as building irrigation systems and reduces its staff of 35 foreigners to fewer than 10, all limited to Pyongyang. That would limit the agency's ability to serve much of the country.

Stopping the U.N. agency from distributing food is likely to send villagers back into the forests to find acorns and maize. The food that the agency supplied to schools was an incentive for parents to have their children educated; now that inducement is gone.

The agency also has established factories in North Korea to make biscuits fortified with extra vitamins and nutrients, which are given to the most vulnerable — children and pregnant women. But the country needs outside help to keep those factories operating.

Refusing U.N. help is a betrayal of the people most in need.

[Excerpt of a L.A. Times editorial]

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