April 23, 2010 12:04
Food prices in North Korea have stabilized because the regime took the emergency measure of distributing rice stored for the military, a high-ranking South Korean government official said Thursday.
The Unification Ministry told the National Assembly on April 13 that the price of rice in North Korea was around 20 won per kilogram right after the botched currency reform late last year but soared to 1,000 won in mid-March. In early April, the price dropped to 500-600 won. At the time, experts predicted that the lean season in April and May coupled with the failed currency reform would cause increasing starvation. North Korea is over 1 million tons of food short this year.
"It seems Kim Jong-il is starting to show some consideration for his people considering that the regime distributed rice buried deep in storage for the military," the senior official said Thursday.
Prof. Cho Young-gi, a professor at Korea University, said the North Korean regime "wants to hold out as long as it can without having to rely on external aid." Although over 1 million people died of starvation between 1995 and 1998, the regime did not open up the emergency food and rice storage caves of the military. But times have changed, as recent unrest over the currency reform showed. "No North Korean would just sit and starve to death like in the 1990s," one defector said.
According to a source, North Korea distributed some of the rice earmarked for military when the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations in the South were generous with aid, and even then it stored newly arrived rice from South Korea and sold the old rice in the market. The reason why South Korea this year tried to replace rice aid with corn was that corn is more perishable and is therefore less likely to be appropriated by the military.
The regime distributed 5 kg of rice, 2-3 kg of meat, and 1 liter of cooking oil in celebration of the birthday of nation founder Kim Il-sung on April 15. An inside source said North Koreans "are keeping up their morale."
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