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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 00:22 GMT 01:22 UK
Britain moves into Kim's secret state
Kim Il-sung's mausoleum
Despite dying seven years ago Kim is still head of state
By Brian Barron in Pyongyang

The first-ever British embassy has just opened in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, as Western nations continue to pressure the country to abandon missile and nuclear weapons development.

The hard-line communist state, which has been hit by drought followed by flood, continues to suffer from food shortages and daily rations have been drastically cut.

food aid
North Korea relies on food aid
The World Food Programme says the new limit is below long term survival levels.

Every step of life here is regimented from cradle to grave by a totalitarian regime where the personality cult of the Kim dynasty reaches mind-boggling proportions.

Though Kim Senior died seven years ago he remains head of state, entombed in a mausoleum bigger than Buckingham Palace.

But in the countryside poverty and ruin are his legacy.

Misguided farming projects, fertiliser shortages and natural disasters have left North Korea an economic basket case.

Adults at risk

David Morton, UN relief chief in the country, says that it is that is now the adults who are most at risk.

"The children who are the beneficiaries of the World Food Programme are OK, they are sustained by a million tonnes of food aid coming into the country. The people who are in trouble are the adults, particularly those in the cities," he said.

Starving child
Unofficial pictures show the reality of North Korea's starving children

The daily rations for adults have been cut to just 150 grams a day - well below survival levels.

A quarter of the countryside is barred to UN relief teams for security reasons. But pictures of starving children taken unofficially a few months ago reveal the sad reality.

Presiding over the deepening crisis is Kim Jung-il, who just spent three weeks touring Russia in his own armoured train.

He is the only ruler in communist history to inherit power from his father and he is resisting US pressure to stop developing long-range missiles.

Hoping for change

Now, 50 years after fighting the North during the Korean War, Britain has entered the picture, setting up its first embassy in the secretive state.

"We think we can change and influence the DPRK in here in a way that we cannot do if we're not here," said British Charge D'Affaires James Hoare.

North Korean child using a computer
North Korea would like to project a positive image

Pyongyang wants to project an image of an open, technologically advanced state, but pictures shown of children using the internet are a sham - there are no links to this secret police state.

The people grow up worshipping the Kim dynasty as gods and the cost has been catastrophic - isolation, plunging living standards and malnutrition.

Just a few months ago there were hints of reforms to the system. But now Kim Jung-il son of North Korea's founding father, seems paralysed with indecision as his brainwashed people suffer.

The BBC's Brian Barron
"North Korea is an economic basket case"
See also:

16 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Plea to help North Korean refugees
16 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korean defections up
02 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Korean communists go home
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