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Scores of children dead in North Korea famine

U.S. lawmaker says 'gigantic' disaster in the making

chils April 8, 1997
Web posted at: 2:02 p.m. EDT (1802 GMT)

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PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) -- North Korea has acknowledged for the first time that children in the country are dying of malnutrition and that almost one child in seven is suffering as a consequence of severe food shortages, a spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Tuesday.

Aid agencies in Pyongyang were told that 134 North Korean children had died of malnutrition so far in the country's food crisis, according to UNICEF's Hans Olsen speaking in Geneva. No time period for the deaths was given.

'Slow starvation on a massive scale'

Even North Korea's military is suffering, according to a "stunned" U.S. congressman who recently spent four days in the northern part of the peninsula.

Ohio Democrat Tony Hall said he saw soldiers whose uniforms hung off their bodies.

Tony Hall reacts to the situation in North Korea...

icon It's a disaster of gigantic proportions...
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icon The children are starving...
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icon A push for help...
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"Everyone is systematically starving together," he told reporters in Tokyo, adding that he saw "evidence of slow starvation on a massive scale."

Hall said the evidence included families eating grass, weeds and bark; orphans whose growth has been stunted by hunger and diarrhea; people going bald for lack of nutrients; and hospitals running short of medicine and fuel.

"I was stunned by what I saw ... and by how much worse conditions have gotten since I was there last August," he said. Nevertheless, Hall said he saw no sign that hunger was on the verge of spurring a popular revolt against the North Korean government.

Aid slow in coming

Floods have devastated North Korean farmland during the last two summers, but Hall said part of the blame for the food crisis also fell on South Korea and Japan. He accused them of holding out on aid hoping to force North Korea into peace talks.

North Korea to decide soon on peace talks

Despite the faults of North Korea's secretive and repressive communist government and massive military, the Ohio representative urged the world to do far more to help feed North Korea.

"South Korean can do more. Japan can do more. The European Union can do more," Hall said.

Others seem to believe so, too. The United Nations appealed on Monday appealed for $126 million in emergency aid for North Korea. Separately, South Korea religious and civic groups announced plans to ship 110,000 tons of corn to their communist brethren.

Many countries have been slow to respond to international appeals for food aid to North Korea out of fears that donations would be diverted to the 1.1 million-strong armed forces, who consume about a quarter of the impoverished nation's budget.

Since 1995, Washington has given $18.4 million in cash, food and medicine to the North, the State Department says. That is more than any other country has donated but far more is needed, Hall said.

First U.S. grain sale to north since the Korean War

In a related development Tuesday, American food conglomerate Cargill Inc. revealed the first direct sale of American grain to North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The company did not disclose the size of the sale but in Seoul, traders close to the Cargill deal said North Korea had agreed to barter about 4,000 tons of zinc for about 20,000 tons of wheat.

A sales license granted by the U.S. government to Cargill is an exception to the strict 47-year-old U.S. embargo on North Korea, imposed following the outbreak of hostilities between North and South Korea.

Tokyo Bureau Chief John Lewis and Reuters contributed to this report.


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