What Next for N.Korea's Hungry People?

Two days before North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's birthday, scores of residents in Jongju, Yongchon and Sonchon in North Pyongyang Province protested demanding food and electricity. At first, a few people began shouting, but soon many more joined them.

Since the late 1990s, the regime has vowed to turn the country into a "powerful and prosperous nation" by 2002. Slogans include letting everyone eat white rice and meat soup instead of gruel made out of corn or other coarse grains and equipping its military with state-of-the-art weaponry. It then furtively pushed the target year back to 2012. North Koreans must be fed up with these lies.

Last year, the regime halved the administrative size of Pyongyang, apparently because it had become difficult to support the city's entire population with the special rations they are entitled to. But other accounts tell a different story. They say the regime is deliberately keeping its food stores closed this year so it can dole out food rations next year, which marks the 100th anniversary of nation founder Kim Il-sung and the 70th birthday of Kim Jong-il.

If Kim Jong-il and his son and heir Jong-un were really interested in feeding hungry North Koreans, they would probably have tried everything to find badly-needed food for them, but there are no signs that this is happening. If even residents in the capital have to go hungry, it does not take a lot of imagination to guess how bad the situation must be in other parts of the country.

But there is no reason to assume that organized anti-government protests are brewing. North Koreans are too weak and hungry to protest, have no means of communication to share their anger and face a security apparatus that is armed to the teeth and more than willing to deal with protesters with artillery, bombs and fighter jets just like Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Indeed, the regime will probably be even more ruthless.

Desperation is growing, but the regime would probably still divert any rice aid from South Korea to the military or to prepare for Kim Jong-il's birthday feast. Perhaps the best thing to do is to attach some food along with propaganda leaflets to the helium balloons that are floated into the North.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 24, 2011 13:44 KST