Archive for March, 2005

N Korea football violence erupts

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005


North Korean soldiers and riot police had to step in after violence erupted when the home side lost a World Cup qualifying match to Iran, say reports.

Bottles, stones and chairs were thrown on to the pitch in Pyongyang after a North Korean player was sent off.

Violence then spilled over outside the stadium and thousands of angry fans reportedly prevented Iranian players from boarding the team bus.

North Korea, which lost 2-0, is bottom of its World Cup qualifying group.

It has already lost to Japan and Bahrain and must win its three remaining matches to stand a chance of making it through to next year’s World Cup finals in Germany.

Wednesday’s violence erupted in the second half of the match at the Kim Il-sung stadium, which was broadcast on international satellite television.

North Korean players and fans became upset when one of their players was blocked by an Iranian defender and fell near the goal, Japanese news agency Kyodo reported.

Demanding a penalty, they rushed Syrian referee Mohamed Kousa, who instead gave a North Korean player a red card, according to Kyodo.

‘Severe punishment’

The unrest continued after the final whistle, and match officials were unable to leave the pitch for more than 20 minutes as objects were thrown at them.

As the violence continued outside the stadium, riot police stepped in and managed to push the crowd back so that the Iranian team could leave.

“The atmosphere on the pitch and outside the pitch was not a sports atmosphere,” Iran’s coach Branko Ivankovic was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

“It is very disappointing when you feel your life is not safe. My players tried to get to the bus after the game but it was not possible – it was a very dangerous situation.”

A North Korean defector and former football official told Reuters that his homeland had an organised society and such behaviour was unlikely to be tolerated.

“I have never seen anything like this myself,” he said. “The people responsible are likely to be tracked down and severely punished.”


Bird flu: FAO sends experts to North Korea

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005


FAO has sent a veterinary expert to Pyongyang/North Korea to obtain further information on the extent of the current avian influenza outbreak in the country and to offer assistance to control the bird flu virus.

Two additional FAO avian influenza experts from China and Australia will arrive in Pyongjang within the next days.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has informed FAO about bird flu outbreaks on two or three farms. In response, FAO has sent diagnostic kits for avian influenza to support national control efforts.

Poultry production is one of the few growing sectors in the country. The number of poultry is estimated at some 25.5 million in 2004, about two times higher than in 1997.

In the wake of serious food shortages, the supply of animal protein has been very limited in North Korea. The recovering poultry sector could contribute to improve the nutrition of the country’s population of around 22.5 million people by adding a valuable source of animal protein to their diets.

North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world, with around 8 million chronically undernourished in 2000-2002.

The spread of the disease into North Korea underlines the need for close regional cooperation, FAO said. North Korea is already benefiting from a regional FAO project on avian influenza, shared with China, Mongolia and the Republic of Korea. The project assists in improving and upgrading veterinary laboratories as well as creating a network for the sharing of epidemiological information, and provision of equipment to control and prevent avian flu.

A national workshop on bird flu will be held soon in North Korea to improve awareness of the disease, and provide information on control methods, laboratory diagnosis and good farming practices. The workshop will be jointly organised by the government and FAO.

It is essential to fight the bird flu virus in poultry, free-range chickens and ducks, in order to reduce the risk of a human flu pandemic, the UN agency said.


Bird flu outbreak in North Korea

Sunday, March 27th, 2005


North Korea says it has had a first outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus.

The state Korean Central News Agency said no people had been infected but hundreds of thousands of chickens had been culled and the carcasses burned.

The agency only said that the outbreak was “recent” and occurred at “two or three” chicken farms. It did not specify the virus type.

The H5N1 virus has killed almost 50 people since its resurgence in South East Asia in December 2003.

Tight controls

KCNA said Hadang farm in Pyongyang, among the city’s largest, was one of the sites of the outbreak.

North Korea had previously said it was free of the virus that has struck many countries in south and east Asia.

South Korean news agency Yonhap earlier this month reported an outbreak at Hadang, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to ask the reclusive North for information.

The North has relied on food aid for more than a decade but imposes tight controls on foreign visitors and aid workers.

Experts fear the H5N1 virus could eventually combine with human flu and threaten a deadly pandemic.

There are suspected cases of the virus being passed between humans.

Seoul offers N Korea bird flu aid


South Korea has said it is ready to help the North combat bird flu, after the isolated state publicly admitted on Sunday that it was fighting the virus.

Pyongyang has not asked Seoul for assistance, but a South Korean official said the official announcement appeared to indicate the North would accept aid.

The North says no people have been infected but hundreds of thousands of chickens have been culled.

Analysts warn that the virus could wipe out its fledgling chicken industry.

“North Korea, plagued by food shortages, has struggled to modernise and build facilities for the breeding and processing of chicken, a main source of animal protein,” Kwon Tae-jin, an expert on North Korean agriculture based in Seoul, told the South Korean Munhwa Ilbo newspaper.

The North has not specified the type of bird flu virus it is battling. The H5N1 virus has killed almost 50 people since its resurgence in South East Asia in December 2003.

The state Korean Central News Agency only said that the outbreak was “recent” and occurred at “two or three” chicken farms.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which has an office in Pyongyang, said it had been contacted by the North, and would co-ordinate counter-measures.

South Korea was to hold several meetings on Monday to decide on a strategy to help the North.

It has already put in place measures to prevent the spread of bird flu into the South, as rumours first surfaced of an outbreak in the North earlier this month.

South Korea has itself suffered several outbreaks of bird flu, but no human infections.

Experts fear the H5N1 virus could eventually combine with human flu and threaten a deadly pandemic.

There are suspected cases of the virus being passed between humans. So far, Vietnam has been the country hardest hit by this year’s outbreak of bird flu.

UN bird flu expert visits N Korea

A senior United Nations bird flu expert has gone to North Korea to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

North Korea confirmed on Saturday that bird flu had been detected in several farms near the capital, Pyongyang.

State media said hundreds of thousands of chickens had been destroyed to prevent the virus from spreading, and no humans had been affected.

The UN has also sent diagnostic kits to help the North Koreans determine if the birds died from the deadly H5N1 strain.

This strain of bird flu has killed almost 50 people since its resurgence in South East Asia in December 2003.

Hans Wagner, a senior official from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, flew to Pyongyang on Tuesday, and will be joined by two other experts from China and Australia in the coming days.

Survivor’s story

“They will look at the strategies being set up by the government and also bring some supplies,” FAO spokesman Diderik de Vleeschauwer told Reuters news agency.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Tuesday that the North Korean authorities were struggling to control the outbreak, and the disease was spreading quickly.

Analysts warn that the virus could wipe out the poverty-stricken country’s chicken industry.

Before the bird flu outbreak, poultry production was one of the few growing sectors in North Korea. The number of poultry was estimated at 25.5m in 2004, about two times higher than in 1997.

N Korean bird flu ‘different’

A strain of bird flu infecting poultry in North Korea is different from that which killed scores of people in other parts of Asia, a UN expert has said.

Hans Wagner, an official for the Food and Agriculture Organization, said the birds were infected with the H7 strain.

The strain that has decimated poultry stocks and caused recent human deaths in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam is the more virulent H5N1 strain.

North Korea has culled 219,000 birds to tackle the outbreak, Mr Wagner said.

“We have a new situation, because H7 has so far not occurred in Asia,” he told reporters.

“We don’t know where the virus came from,” he said, adding that UN experts would now try to trace the source of the infection, to prevent future outbreaks.

H7 can cause illness in humans, but outbreaks of the strain have not been as severe as those caused by H5N1.

H5N1 has killed almost 50 people since its resurgence in South East Asia in December 2003.

When North Korea first announced that three of its farms had been infected with bird flu last month, analysts warned that the virus could wipe out the poverty-stricken country’s chicken industry.

Poultry production is one of the few growing sectors in North Korea, which has relied on foreign aid to feed its people since the mid-1990s.


U.S. Team Says North Korea Suppresses Religion

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

Robert Evans

North Korea represses religion and has an official ideology that is a form of secular humanism, a U.S. government agency said on Thursday.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said interviews with North Korean refugees showed a pattern of arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution for public expressions of religion.

“Any reappearance of Christianity, possibly permeating from northern China to where many thousands of North Koreans fled from famine in the 1990s, is rigorously repressed,” USCIRF North Korean researcher David Hawk told a news conference.

Only two active churches, with one more to be built, and one Buddhist temple were known to exist — all in the capital, Pyongyang, and apparently serving the foreign diplomatic and business community there.

USIRC vice-chair Felice D. Gaer said a full report on the findings from interviews with some 30 ordinary North Koreans among some 6,000 who have escaped to South Korea since 2000 would be published later this year.

Information, published in part by USIRC last summer, would be a useful contribution to debate at the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, where North Korea is under fire from mainly Western countries, she said.

The 53-member Commission narrowly agreed in 2004 for the first time to appoint a special investigator for North Korea — Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn. The government in Pyongyang has refused to cooperate with him.

A similar resolution — proposed last year by the European Union with U.S. backing — is expected at the Commission next month after Vitit has presented his own report.

Hawk was asked if the North Korean attitude toward secular humanism was any different to its stance on theistic religion. Secular humanism is a widespread philosophy that aims to promote human cooperation and morality without reference to a deity. North Korea’s official ideology is called Juche.

“Juche thought is a form of secular humanism,” he said, referring to the North Korean system of strict obedience to the national leader — currently Kim Jong Il, son of the country’s first communist chief Kim Il Sung. Secular humanism, which emerged from the 18th century European Enlightenment and inspired some early U.S. leaders, is currently under assault in the United States from Christian evangelicals who have the ear of President Bush.

Officials of secular and humanist organizations accredited to the UN and to the Human Rights Commission have long complained that religious freedom issues are privileged there at the expense of the freedom to reject religion.

Roy Brown, President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said a report to the Commission on “defamation of religions” by a Senegalese rights investigator appeared to suggest that secularists were a danger to religious freedom.


North Korea’s stunted policy stunts children

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Asia Times
Aidan Foster-Carter
March 15, 2005

It’s a cliche to complain how little we really know about North Korea. Hard facts, and especially figures, are indeed hard – as in hard to come by.

In some fields this is perfectly true. The military, obviously. Does North Korean leader Kim Jong-il have the bomb or bombs? How many? Where is he hiding them? All countries keep that kind of information secret.

But no other nation in the world fails to publish any regular statistics about its economy. This 40-year silence should temper hype about market reforms. Without numbers, neither local enterprises nor external donors or (they wish) investors can do more than gamble in the dark. They really do need to know. Providing accurate numbers is a basic prerequisite of being a modern state.

Yet North Korea possesses a Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), and it is not idle. No doubt the Dear Leader demands economic data – for his eyes only. But in some fields, the CBS does publish its work. One example was North Korea’s 1993 census, its first ever.

More recently the CBS has worked with international aid agencies to collect information that the latter need in a key area: hunger and its human consequences. The latest fruits of such cooperation have just been published in the “DPRK 2004 Nutrition Assessment Survey”, a joint product of the Central Bureau of Statistics and North Korea’s Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN), with financial and technical help from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The two chief consultants were from Australia and Vietnam, so this was a regional Asian effort. It follows earlier surveys carried out at two-year intervals, in 1998, 2000 and 2002.

It was the WFP that released this report, at a press conference in Beijing on March 7. It is in fact dated November 2004; the survey itself was carried out in October. The delay wasn’t explained. Perhaps the lag was attributable to translation time and to make sure it was fit for publication generally.

I’m often critical of North Korea, so all the more reason to give credit when it’s due. This is an impressive, highly professional report comprising 104 pages, five chapters, 46 tables, 24 figures. The sample was 4,800 children, ages up to six, and 2,109 mothers of children under two, drawn evenly from seven of North Korea’s nine provinces plus the capital, Pyongyang.

Having taught social science research methods in a former life, I get a kick out of reading about random and cluster sampling (sad, I know). Then I pinch myself. This is North Korea. An official document! All these numbers! And on a potentially very sensitive subject, too.

For what this survey measures, with grim precision, is what years of hunger have done to the bodies of small children – and I do mean small – and their mothers in North Korea.

To be technical, there are three main criteria:

*Underweight (for age) is self-explanatory;
*Stunting, low height for age, signals chronic malnutrition;
*Wasting, worst of all, is low weight relative to height, indicating acute malnutrition. Each of these categories is sub-divided into mild and severe cases. For the mothers, a fourth measure was used: MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference). Less than 22.5 centimeters means they aren’t eating enough.

So how are Juche’s (juche is the policy of self-reliance) children faring? The WFP’s press release tried to look on the bright side. Since the last survey in 2002, the proportion of young children chronically malnourished (stunted) is down from 42% to 37%. Acute malnutrition (wasting) eased from 9% to 7%. But those underweight rose from 21% to 23% – though for children under the age of two, those most at risk, this fell from 25% to 21%. One in five children had diarrhea, and one in eight showed symptoms of acute respiratory infection. But mothers have made no progress: a third were anemic and malnourished, the same figure as two years ago. Vitamin A deficiency is common.

Much depends on where people are living. Things are less bad in Pyongyang and in the southwestern Hwanghae farming region than in bleak northeasterly Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces. Ryanggangites get to eat meat, fish or eggs just once every three weeks on average. Chagang in the far mid-north is bleaker still, but North Korea doesn’t allow access to this area – probably because of military bases located there. Thus, no survey was conducted in Chagang, which means no food aid either; the WFP is strict about that – surveys first.

Even at the national level, the few slight improvements offer scant comfort. The more than one-third (37%) of North Korean’s under six who are stunted – and especially the one in eight (12%) who are severely stunted – will grow up stunted and stay that way. Even once Korea is reunified politically, they will stand out physically: dwarfed by their Southern peers.

Seoul, meanwhile, has different – nay, opposite – child health issues. With uncanny timing, the very same day as the WFP released its survey on the North, education officials in the Southern capital reported that one in 10 schoolchildren in Seoul is overweight. Obesity rates are growing fast, too. As the old adage has it, the rich slim while the poor starve.

Back in the North, the WFP doesn’t appear to be leaving any time soon. Richard Ragan, head of the program’s Pyongyang office – and an American, to boot – said he hopes the agency will shut up shop one day, once the government and the private sector can stand on their own feet.

But for now, one anniversary a proud North Korea won’t be celebrating, is that this year marks a whole decade since it first, reluctantly, asked the WFP and other agencies for help coping with flood and famine. While the worst of the famine has eased, food self-sufficiency – in a country so mountainous that this is a ludicrous goal anyway – looks as remote as ever.

So still, in 2005, the WFP has extended the begging bowl for Kim Jong-il – whose own priorities evidently lie elsewhere. Ever prickly Pyongyang has bitten the kind hand trying to feed it, forbidding UN agencies to launch their usual formal consolidated aid appeal this year. Nonetheless the WFP is seeking $202 million with which to buy 504,000 tonnes of food, mainly grains.

And no wonder. In January North Korea cut its Public Distribution System (PDS) rations to starvation level: 250 grams of cereal per person per day, the lowest in five years. Such cutbacks don’t usually happen until March, when last year’s crop typically runs out. This is all the more odd, since 2004’s autumn harvest is thought to have been the best in years.

Luckily, the WFP currently has enough stocks – as it did not, in the recent past – to feed all of its target group: a staggering 6.5 million North Koreans, or nearly one-third of the entire population. The main categories within this group are 2.7 million children from birth to the age of 10 and 2.15 million people in food or work programs. Other beneficiaries include 900,000 elderly, 300,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers, and 350,000 in low-income households. The latter are a new category: victims of the post-2002 reforms that have seen inequalities widen, even as the state retreats ever further from providing any help to the millions of citizens whom its disastrous past and half-baked present policies have starved and stunted.

That’s my take, not the WFP’s. Diplomacy precludes any such critique from a UN body. Yet the raw data, the results – written indelibly on the bodies of innocent children, marked for life – are there for all to see. It’s ironic, but the same regime that branded this suffering on its people is at least now registering and owning up to the outcome: collating and publishing these damning data, putting its name to the survey, and signing off on it. That’s a start.

Where his statisticians boldly go, will the Dear Leader follow? It’s so simple. Ditch nukes; watch aid explode instead. Let the children eat, and grow. If not, what future is there?