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Published: Tuesday, 2/24/2004

Misery in North Korea

THE news from North Korea that 6.4 million people, 28 percent of the population, are suffering from malnutrition, that humanitarian organizations have run out of food, and that food-contributing countries, will be unlikely to meet the need before April, underlines a continuing crisis and the urgency of dealing with it.

The logic of the matter, if one were dealing with a rational government, is that it would see and feel the desperate situation of its people and come to an agreement to feed them in the short run and retool the economy in the long run as quickly as possible.

That, unfortunately, is not the reaction of the Pyongyang government. Instead it continues to take the country's $1 billion annual military expenditures off the top, maintaining a million men under arms and making at least of show of continuing to develop nuclear weapons.

The donor world is left in a painful box. One could say, let the North Korean population starve until it becomes so desperate and enraged that it overthrows the Kim Jong Il regime. But the regime's formidable armed forces make that impossible.

The second flaw is that it asks the poorest and most miserable portion of the North Korean population to pay the price for having the bad luck to live under a vicious government.

Why should the poorest North Koreans have to suffer for the depravity of those who rule them?

The international approach to North Korea currently under way may help. Talks involving South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the United States, and North Korea are scheduled to convene Feb. 25 in Beijing. North Korea and South Korea are to carry out direct, bilateral military talks as well.

Even if Pyongyang is not influenced by the miserable situation of its people, all of the participants will at least be aware of the sad facts as they negotiate.

In the meantime, the United States should once again speak with its heart and provide the necessary additional food to the humanitarian organizations working in North Korea to give those little children with half-empty rice bowls a chance for the future.



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