Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) North Korean national leader, Kim Jong-Il, celebrated his 62nd birthday yesterday amid lavish official ceremonies while ordinary citizens in his country go starving.
According humanitarian agencies in Seoul people endured the traditional celebrations while thoughts of hunger filled their minds. The Pyongyang state press agency reported yesterday that a "national gathering" was attended by state officials, foreign diplomats, military leaders and other special guests. All last week special ceremonies and tributes were paid in honor of the North Korean dictator.
The media praised Kim Jong-Il for "his devotion to North Koreans, his ability as a statesman and his magnificence."
Yang Hyong-sop, vice-president of the Supreme People's Assembly, said Kim Jong-Il was "a man of incomparable greatness, the sun of the 21st century lighting the way for the sacred cause of independence to its final victory."
Humanitarian organizations, however, say that such "joy" is not so felt amongst the rest of the North Korean population.
Little improvement has been made in the lives of North Koreans, since some ten years ago when figures first emerged regarding their lack of food and the existence of widespread hunger.
The lack of food supplies led around 300 million North Koreans to flee to China. The South Korean NGO, Good Friends, will soon publish a dossier based on thousands of testimonials of North Korean refugees in China.
One woman refugee was quoted as saying: "When basic food supplies ran out our family of 6 no longer had the means to survive. We sold all we had at home and ate wild vegetable stew each day, some of us gathering vegetables from a nearby hill. We all suffered from malnutrition. Yet my youngest child died at 8 years of age after he contracted diarrhea and passed away 3 days later."
Cases of women are on the increase who refuse to get married or have children for fear of not being able to feed their offspring. Kang Yeo-kyong, a volunteer at Good Friends, said she interviewed a woman who, upon finding out she was pregnant, tried to abort the fetus by drinking detergent.
Forty-two per cent of North Korean children suffer from chronic malnutrition or rickets.
In recent months the World Food Program (WFP) reported the plight of millions of North Koreans due to a lack of food and aid contributions from the country.
Kim Jong-Il took over power from this father, Kim Il-Sung, in 1994. Since then he has exercised a systemic use of terror, torture and repression over his citizens. A strong personality cult has been formulated around him since he was born.
Kim Jong-Il was born in Siberia in 1941, while his father was in exile in the former Soviet Union. However according to official accounts, he was born in a log cabin on his father's military base on Mount Paektu, the tallest mountain in North Korea. His birth was signaled by a double rainbow and bright star in the heavens.
In 2002 North Korea raised many fears throughout the world for when it resumed its nuclear weapons program. This Feb. 25 representatives from North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia will gather in Beijing to seek a solution to the polemic. Dissidents and refugees who accuse North Korea of political torture have asked that 'human rights' and 'fundamental freedoms' to be included as topics in the meeting's talks, in addition to the country's controversial nuclear program. (MR)