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Starving North Koreans take desperate steps for food

May 1, 1997
Web posted at: 12:53 p.m. EDT (1653 GMT)

YANGJI, China (CNN) -- Desperately hungry North Koreans are risking punishment by sneaking into China to steal food, and some are delaying burials to prevent bodies from being dug up and eaten, according to residents of Yangji, a city in northeastern China near the North Korean border.

They also say North Koreans are selling their clothes to raise enough money to buy food.

"They have nothing there," says a woman running a food stand in Yangji. "There is only corn to eat and very little of that."

Floods have wiped out crops in North Korea for the past two years.

Farmers in nearby China say they suffered less flood damage and have better crop-raising methods.

"When North Koreans are growing rice seedlings, they grow it directly," says Jin Shunji, a Yangji farmer who once studied farming methods in North Korea.

"Most of the Chinese use a greenhouse, but the North Koreans still plant directly onto farmland. This is a technique that Chinese farmers stopped using several years ago."

North Korea's punishment for sneaking across the border in search of food is both swift and brutal, Yangji residents say.

"There are guards every 150 meters (yards), and now the border area is more tightly controlled," says Li Hanjun, a Chinese farmer. "If a North Korean escapes and is discovered, then the whole family disappears."

Many Chinese are more forgiving, turning a blind eye when they catch North Koreans stealing food and animal feed.

The U.N. World Food Program has warned that starvation in North Korea will only worsen without large shipments of food.

Representatives from North and South Korea are scheduled to meet in Beijing this weekend to discuss food aid.


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