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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 14:01 GMT
N Korea's food crisis 'worsening'
By John Sudworth
BBC News, Seoul

A North Korean woman collects food ration at Public Distribution Center in Sohung County, in North Korea's North Hwanghae
Despite supplies from the World Food Programme, shortages remain
North Korea is facing a chronic and worsening food crisis, according to an aid group which has experience of working inside the secretive state.

The Good Friends aid agency, based in South Korea, says rations have been cut severely, badly affecting even elite citizens in the capital, Pyongyang.

Good Friends says that to protect its sources, it cannot reveal where its latest information has come from.

But previous reports from the group on North Korea have later been confirmed.

Good Friends - a Buddhist-affiliated group that takes food and other aid into North Korea - says the crisis is most serious in rural areas, with people in many parts of South Hwanghae province living without rations since November.

Rations cut

But privileged medium- and lower-level officials based in Pyongyang are also said to have received no rations this month; they had already been cut by 60% in February.

Earlier this month, Good Friends said it had received evidence that 15 North Koreans had been publicly executed for illegally crossing the Chinese border in search of food.

The World Food Programme has warned that almost a quarter of North Korea's 20 million people is suffering from a severe lack of food.

Soaring international grain prices are making the situation much worse.

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