________________________________________________________________________ North Korean famine is 'heartbreaking,' aid group reports Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net Copyright ) 1997 Reuters WASHINGTON (December 18, 1997 01:18 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - North Korean refugees hiding in China have told horrific stories of surviving on plants and tree bark and, in rare cases, on human flesh, a South Korean aid organization said on Wednesday. Korean-Chinese associates of the Korean Buddhist Sharing Movement, a South Korean humanitarian organization, conducted 204 refugee interviews to get a picture of the food situation in North Korea, the movement said. The results show a "heartbreaking" picture of families forced to sell all their furniture to buy food or to wander the countryside looking for something to eat, said Pomnyun, a Buddhist monk who heads the South Korean aid group. "When I lost my daughter because of malnutrition, I lost my will to live and tried to commit suicide several times," a 28-year-old mother told interviewers, according to a translated text. "Then finally I decided to escape." North Korea has reported sharp food shortages following massive floods in 1995 and 1996. "We collected plants, herbs and tree bark and boiled it with a spoonful of corn powder," one 67-year-old male told interviewers. "Finally, we had our children find their own meals on the street. One is dead from starvation, and the other two were murdered and eaten by a neighbor," he said. Two of the North Korean refugees admitted eating "dead bodies" to survive, said Young Chun, senior policy adviser of the Korean American Sharing Movement. The accounts of cannibalism could not be independently confirmed. Such reports have surfaced occasionally during North Korea's food crisis, but none have been independently confirmed. Chun, a sociologist and survey research methodologist, cautioned against generalizing from the results of the survey. But he added it did provide eyewitness accounts of the effects of the famine from a large number of survivors. The 204 refugees gave information on 1,009 family members, including themselves. Of that total, they reported that 245 family members, or 24 percent, had died in the last two years. The refugees said starvation was the cause of death in 63 percent of the cases. Diseases such as tuberculosis and paratyphus have also taken a substantial toll, they said. Starvation accounted for 90 percent of the deaths among children up to age 9, the largest percentage for any group. At least 43 percent of the reported deaths were among family members aged 50 or older. That could reflect the giving of food to their children by elderly North Koreans, Chun said. Altogether, 69 percent of the refugees said they had lost one or more parents in the last two years, and 25 percent said they had lost one or more children.
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