N. Korea’s Kim Jong-il giving knockoff birthday gifts?

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North Korean diplomats have been asking for food aid when meeting officials in foreign countries, a South Korean intelligence official said. North Korea’s food shortage is grave, and the North likely is looking to stockpile food to distribute to citizens next year, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to reporters.

North Korea also has asked a South Korean aid group to visit Pyongyang to discuss food shipments, according to Park Hyun-seok of the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea. South Korea has yet to approve the visit.

The North also has reached out to the U.N. World Food Program, saying it needs help because of the severe winter and a bad vegetable harvest. On Monday, the United Nations said it had begun a new assessment of North Korea’s food needs and planned more than 300,000 tons of humanitarian assistance.

As Mr. Kim marks another birthday, there is also speculation about the state of his health. U.S. and South Korean officials believe a stroke in August 2008 kept him out of the public eye for months.

But Mr. Kim has been incredibly active this past year. In recent weeks alone, Mr. Kim, sometimes accompanied by Kim Jong-un, has given “field guidance” at an army medical institute, an art studio and complexes devoted to machines and fertilizer, according to state media.

It remains to be seen, though, how lavish he’ll be when he plays Santa Claus this year.

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, Cara Anna and researcher Zhao Liang in Beijing, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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