03/31/2009, 00.00
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Pyongyang gazing into space as its population dies of hunger and abuse

North Korea is ready to launch a rocket into space at a time when about 8.7 million North Koreans are going hungry and only a fraction is benefiting from foreign aid. Intelligence sources say North Korea has two nuclear warheads fitted for medium-range rockets.
Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – DigitalGlobe, an imagery and information company, has photographed a three-stage rocket ready for launch at the Musudan-ri site in the southern part of North Korea’s North Hamgyong province. Pyongyang seems prepared to send in orbit an expensive satellite despite warnings by the international community against it, indifferent of the fate its own population, which has to cope with hardships and starvation, and is suffering from widespread torture and abuse.

Instead North Korea's main newspaper called on people to follow leader Kim Jong-il, saying the leader has been struggling for the country's economic development despite concerns about his health.

Pyongyang has poured tens of millions of dollars into a space programme, oblivious of what was happening to its hungry population.

In fact “it doesn't look very good at the moment, because there is a severe food shortage,” said Vitit Muntarbhorn, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea.

Although the United States has distributed 169,000 tonnes of aid to North Korea through NGOs in 2008 and 2009, a report by the United Nations human rights envoy to North Korea warned that “some 8.7 million people were food insecure and thus need help”, but just 1.7 million people were receiving food assistance in 2009 “because of severe resourcing shortfalls.”

Vitit Muntarbhorn slammed North Korea for its systematic use of “collective punishment, as well as public executions,” and for the “culture of fear” that underpins the power of those at the top and eliminates every dissenting voice. The “general situation” in his view was “dire and desperate”.

A few days before the launch, expected between 4 and 8 April, the International Crisis Group reported that Pyongyang had two nuclear warheads that can be delivered by medium-range Rodong missiles. Both weapons were built with plutonium extracted at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre.

Despite North Korea’s nuclear threats, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is opposed to any military response, and this even if some countries, including Japan, are “rightly” concerned over the safety of their own citizens

In view of the launch the US Navy is deploying two missile-interceptor ships off the South Korean coast.

Similarly, Japan has publicly instructed its Self-Defence Forces to intercept any North Korean object that flies over its territory.

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