10/24/2008, 00.00
KOREA - UN
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North Korea: public executions to foster a climate of terror

The charge comes from a human rights expert, at the UN general assembly, highlighting the atmosphere of "intimidation" in the country. The government is blocking telephone calls outside of the country, and setting up sanctions against those who try to leave. UN-South Korea dispute over the food crisis in the north.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - North Korea is using public executions to "intimidate" its citizens, and "the authorities have imposed restrictions on long distance telephone calls to block the spreading of news concerning the current food shortage." The charge has been made by Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai expert on human rights, during the general assembly of the United Nations. He adds that the Pyongyang regime has imposed further "sanctions" against "people seeking to leave the country," and is still holding "very large numbers of people" in concentration camps.

Muntarbhorn says that he has still not obtained an entry visa from the North Koreans since he was appointed to his post in 2004, but says that he trusts that in the future he will receive an official invitation. On personal liberties, he emphasizes that the latest reports reveal a campaign aimed at blocking "clandestine cell phone calls," as well as television programs from South Korea. But the most disconcerting thing, the independent observer continues, is "the use of public executions to intimidate the public."

Vitit Muntarbhorn also speaks of a "great disparity" in access to food rations between the elites and government officials and the ordinary people, who are deprived of food, active participation in political life, religious freedom, and basic human rights. And he says that those who try to protest or flee are blocked, persecuted, or locked up in the labor camps.

As for the distribution of aid, a group of South Korean activists claims that food rations are being given to the military, to the detriment of rural dwellers. According to the Buddhist association "Good Friends," the government of Pyongyang has redirected funds provided for the countryside to the army, because otherwise there would not have been enough food for the troops.

Yesterday, the World Food Program denounced a "humanitarian emergency." According to Jean-Pierre de Margerie, director of the program for North Korea, some provinces in the north are extremely vulnerable, and about 2.7 million people who live in the west will run out of food in October. The UN official says that international bodies must not wait for people to start dying of hunger before raising the alarm.

This claim was contested today by South Korea, according to which there is no risk of famine for the North Koreans. Kim Ho-nyeon, South Korea's unification minister, says that there are no problems with the harvest this year. Citing figures from a report produced by South Korean government officials who visited the north recently, he says there is no serious food crisis, because weather conditions have been good, and there have been no devastating rains or floods like in 2007.

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