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Monday, March 16, 1998 Published at 23:56 GMT



Despatches

North Koreans bid to escape famine
image: [ Children are dying from malnutrition and inadequate medical care ]
Children are dying from malnutrition and inadequate medical care


Watch this report in real video
For North Koreans, currently facing a devastating famine, China is a land of plenty and, as the BBC's Beijing correspondent Carrie Gracie reports, at the border they trade scrap metal for food.


[ image: The Yalu River: Bridging the gap between life and death]
The Yalu River: Bridging the gap between life and death
The Yalu River is the frontier between starvation and survival and as close a journalists can get to witnessing the devastated country that lies just behind the river bank.

North Koreans come to the Chinese border to trade scrap metal for food. With their economy at a standstill they have nothing else to sell. To them the China that lies just across the border is a land of plenty. By night many defy border guards to swim across.


[ image: Those who make it to China are sent back across the border]
Those who make it to China are sent back across the border
North Korean teenagers who have made it to the Chinese bank are lucky to meet such charity. China regards refugees as illegal aliens. It is happy to send food aid over the bridge but it doesn't want human beings in return.

China is sending desperate refugees back across the river to a country which is by now little more than a giant labour camp. But with last year's harvest already eaten up hunger season in North Korea is starting again. And this time even the leaders of the people's paradise are warning that starvation is around the corner.


[ image: Pom Nyun believes starvation has already begun]
Pom Nyun believes starvation has already begun
Buddhist monk Pom Nyun is among a growing number of observers who believes that starvation has already come. After interviewing hundreds of North Korean refugees in China he estimates that three million have already died and two million more may now be close to death. Desperation has made atrocities commonplace.

"An old man with three grandchildren said they had nothing to eat. So they went out begging. Two of the children were killed and eaten. He was so horrified he took the rest of his family over the border to China," Pom Nyun said.


[ image: Many live on a diet of grasses and roots]
Many live on a diet of grasses and roots
Many North Korean families are reduced to eating grasses and roots. The world has been trying to feed the country for three years but access is limited by a secretive regime and only glimpses of the true picture are possible.

Chronic malnutrition and a collapse of the medical and sanitation systems are killing North Korean children. Arguments about the scale of the tragedy will go on but for these children the arguments are irrelevant. The tragedy is absolute.






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