Violence in N Korea as hunger woes mount

Angry North Koreans have attacked security agents as hunger woes mount following a crackdown on free-market trade, according to reports on Tuesday by groups in Seoul with contacts in the communist state.

Social unrest and riots have flared since a shock currency revaluation by Pyongyang last November worsened shortages of food and other goods for an increasingly desperate population, they said.

“Traders and residents have lost their property due to the redenomination,” Daily NK, an online newspaper hostile to the reclusive regime in the North, quoted one source in North Korea as saying.

“Therefore, people are taking revenge on agents, since they feel so desperate that regardless of their actions, they will die,” the source in North Hamkyung province said. “As a result, social unrest is becoming more serious.”

In one violent incident, Daily NK said “a number of people” assaulted a group of security agents on patrol on Monday in markets in Pyongsung, South Pyongan province.

It gave no details of any casualties.

The paper, citing a group of defectors, said a fight had also broken out recently between residents and security agents monitoring the crackdown in Hyesan in Yanggang province.

As the fight turned nasty, it said, one resident snatched a gun from an agent and fired at random — leaving one security official in critical condition.

The North told its citizens on November 30 to swap old banknotes for new at a rate of 100 to one. But it capped the amount that could be exchanged, reportedly wiping out some people’s savings and causing widespread anger.

The revaluation was widely seen as an attempt by the regime to reassert control over the economy and clamp down on growing free-market activities in the country of about 24-million people.

But the move has reportedly fuelled inflation and created chaos in North Korean shops and markets, with some people forced to barter goods to survive.

North Korea has suffered severe food shortages since a famine in the 1990s killed hundreds of thousands of people. The United Nations tightened sanctions last year in response to the North’s nuclear test and missile launches.

JoongAng Daily newspaper quoted South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Won Sei-Hoon as telling lawmakers last week the currency change had caused riots.

“The move late last year led to riots in some places,” Won was quoted as telling the lawmakers in a closed session. “But the North Korean government appears to have them now under control.”

The NIS declined to confirm Won’s comments.

Yonhap news agency, quoting traders near the Chinese border with North Korea, said the number of people dying of hunger is rising.

That view was echoed in a newsletter by Good Friends, an aid group with contacts in the North.

It said residents, including war veterans aged in their 70s or 80s, protested last month outside a city hall in Danchon, North Hamkyong province and that authorities rushed to release 1 000 tons of rice to placate them. — AFP

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Jun Kwanwoo
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