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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 19:45 GMT
N Koreans 'starving to death'
Korea aid ship
Aid was shipped directly from South Korea last week
A German doctor who has been thrown out of North Korea after criticising human rights abuses says people there are starving to death.

The main problem for all grown-ups is depression - many are addicted to alcohol

Dr Vollersten
Dr Norbert Vollersten painted a picture of desperate people driven to alcoholism and living in a constant state of fear.

He said that while conditions in the capital, Pyongyang, had improved, the plight of some people in rural areas was now desperate.

"I have never, never seen so many people - anywhere on this planet - who are so afraid," he told the BBC.

North Korea food aid
The food is not getting through to the countryside
"They were afraid to come close to me whenever there was an official. They hurried away as though I was the devil himself."

Dr Vollersten, who had worked in a Pyongyang hospital for 18 months, said unwarranted arrest and detention seemed common.

Aid agencies have estimated that up to two million people have died since the mid-1990s as a result of acute food shortages caused by natural disasters and economic mismanagement.

Growing alcoholism

Dr Vollersten, who had been working for the German aid group Komitee Cap Anamur, said people were suffering from "burn-out syndrome", with widespread alcoholism adding to crippling food and power shortages.

It was good in the beginning to give humanitarian aid, but now it's time to insist on human rights

Dr Vollersten
"I saw many victims of alcoholism in hospital, it is the only pleasure they have," he said.

"It's normal human behaviour when there's no more hope, when there's no more future."

Korean wine made from cereal, corn and potatoes is widely available in the shops and reportedly cheaper than food.


Dr Vollersten said the situation in the capital appeared to have improved in the past year.

He said there were restaurants, nightclubs and even a casino in Pyongyang, and high-ranking officials had plenty of money, access to the internet and mobile phones.

However, the story was very different in the countryside where Dr Vollersten said he saw children dying in the streets.

He accused the North Korean Government of not distributing food aid properly.

"Ordinary people and children in the province areas are still starving.

"International food aid started in 1995, so I just wonder where all the food has gone," Dr Vollersten said.

But he urged the international community to continue the aid and help poor North Koreans get "leftovers".

North Korea has reached out to the world since a historic summit in June 2000 between the leaders of the two Koreas, but foreign access to the country is still tightly controlled.

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See also:

09 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea: A political history
28 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Picture gallery: Secret city
28 Oct 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Life in Pyongyang
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Where famine stalks the land
15 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Korea: No going back
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