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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 13:12 GMT
'Record numbers' defect to S Korea
A North Korean border guard looks south
North Korea has had decades of self-imposed isolation
A record number of people from communist North Korea defected to the South over the past year according to the South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS).

The NIS says the number of defectors arriving in South Korea via a third country - usually interpreted as meaning China - has doubled year-on-year since 1999.

Defection rates
2001 - 583
2000 - 312
1999 - 148
Source: NIS
The increase comes despite moves towards greater openness by Pyongyang.

North Korea has been stricken by grave food-shortages over the last six years.

A new report by the South Korean Unification Ministry says without massive financial assistance, the North Korean economy is likely to hover around the zero-growth to low-growth margin at best this year.

Last month, Unification Minister Hong Soon-young said the South would donate 100,000 tonnes of corn to North Korea through the United Nations World Food Programme.

North and South Korea have been divided since 1945.

In 1950 the two countries went to war in what was to be a bloody three-year conflict.

Technically, they remain at war although a ceasefire agreement ended fighting in 1953.

Their border is the most heavily militarised zone in the world and the US keeps about 37,000 troops stationed in the South as a deterrent to the North.

About 1,600 North Korean are thought to have defected to the South since 1953.

See also:

30 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Korean nuclear tour ends
21 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
South Korea lifts alert
30 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea 'backs anti-terror convention'
29 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea drags its feet
26 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea spurns US
14 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Korean talks collapse
12 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea postpones family reunions
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