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By BosNewsLife Correspondents Eric Leijenaar reporting from the Netherlands and Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center
PYONGYANG/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife)– Christians in North Korea said Wednesday, November 25, a massive famine has broken out in their autocratic-ruled nation with many children “dying” while security forces send malnourished people to labor camps for allegedly refusing to join the “100-Day Battle.”
“In the province Hwanghae it is again normal to see dead children lying on the streets,” local Christians added in statements distributed by Open Doors, a Netherlands-based group supporting persecuted Christians in North Korea and other countries.
North Korean Christians blamed a nation-wide production-drive imposed by the regime of the country’s leader Kim Jong-il, known as the “100-Day Battle”, for the apparently worst famine in years.
“The people don’t get the chance to keep themselves alive,” Christians said in comments obtained by BosNewsLife. Those seen as not working for the country’s interests are immediately send to labor camps, where inmates have been tortured, Christians said.
The new ‘100-Day Battle’, will take the total length of the mobilization period up to the end of the year, and possibly even into early 2010, pro-North Korean media reported.
The publication of the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan, Chosun Shinbo, reportedly said the latest battle followed the ‘150-Day Battle’ when “many units have been achieving fruitful results.”
“Without slowing down a bit, (the North Korean people will) keep up their vigor during the ‘100-Day Battle’.”
Christians said the latest developments proof that Kim Jong-il is not able to provide enough food to the population. The current famine is becoming similar to the famine of the 1990s when at least an estimated one million people died of starvation, suggested Open Doors spokesman Jan Vermeer. Some estimates speak of “millions” of people.
“We have learned from our contacts [in North Korea] that parents die or leave their children because they can no longer see how their sons and daughters are dying of hunger,” Vermeer told BosNewsLife.
“There are whole groups of children roaming through the country. If they are detained by police, they are brought to overfull orphanages where they die. To keep themselves alive, North Koreans are trading at night at illegal markets. The next day they have to report themselves again at their [state] working places,” Vermeer added.
He said the current situation has made it more difficult for Open Doors to bring Bibles, Christian books, medicines, food and other aid to underground churches. Christians often suffer as North Korea’s Stalinist system is based on total devotion of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, observers who recently visited the country said.
The ideology, known as Juche, largely resembles a religion or cult, and refugees’ accounts say those who oppose it are dealt with severely, often ending up in prison camps. Despite the risks there are believed to be likely at least tens of thousands of practicing Christians, several observers have said.
“We were planning to wait till the end of the first 150 [Day Battle] and to continue after that time [with bringing aid,” explained Vermeer. “Now there is again mobilization, there are stricter controls, and people can only travel from one area to another with special permissions. Yet, North Korean Christians have asked us not to avoid the danger. They also asked us for prayers,” he added.
Despite the difficulties, Vermeer said, North Koreans remain courages. “They secretly try to speak with others about their faith in Christ. Additionally [North Korean Christians] also give practical support. We know of a woman who has almost no food, but still shares with others who even have less.”
At the same time, the country’s increasingly isolated regime spends much on te military and announced this month that it successfully weaponized more plutonium for atomic bombs.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said North Korea had finished reprocessing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, which experts say would provide enough weapons-grade plutonium for at least one more nuclear bomb.
Observers linked the move to North Korean efforts to have direct nuclear negotiations with the U.S., believing that it is the easiest, fastest and surefire way of ensuring the survival of the totalitarian regime and win economic concessions to rebuild its economy.
North Korea also revised its constitution to give even more power to leader Kim Jong-il, and elevate his “military first” ideology, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said. .
Though there is little doubt over the 67-year-old Kim’s power, secured by his role as chairman of the National Defence Commission, the new constitution removes any risk of ambiguity.
“The chairman is the highest general of the entire military and commands the entire country,” according to a text of the constitution enacted by the reclusive North in April and only recently released by the South Korean government.
The chairman is now the country’s “supreme leader”. Though the position had become the seat of power under Kim, the previous constitution in 1998 simply said the chairman oversees matters of state, the South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife.
Kim Jong-il, who is believed to have suffered a stroke last year, earlier also designated his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as the country’s next leader, according to reports in South Korean media. (Follow BosNewsLife via Twitter. http://www.twitter.com/bosnewslife )