- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is largely responsible for the famine that has killed more than 2 million of his people over the past decade, say Korea observers and food-aid officials.
Their analysis supports the contention of President Bush that North Koreans are starving because Mr. Kim "hasn't seen to it that their economy is strong or that they be fed."
Mr. Bush has held out hope that the standoff created after Mr. Kim restarted his nuclear program can be handled through diplomacy. But he has made it clear that he holds Mr. Kim, the first Communist leader to inherit power from his father, in low regard.
Some of the famine-related deaths, which are estimated to have claimed nearly 10 percent of North Korea's population since Mr. Kim assumed power in 1994, can be traced to floods and droughts, food-relief experts say.
But the effects of the natural disasters would have been less severe if North Korea had a "rational farm system following sensible policies," said Aidan Foster-Carter, a professor of modern Korean history at Leeds University in Great Britain, in a recent analysis.
"It takes collectivized agriculture, its goals imposed as edicts from on high, to mess up as big-time as this," he said.
"Flood and drought have hit South Korea, yet nobody there starved," Mr. Foster-Carter said. "In this sense, North Korea's famine must be seen as man-made to be more exact, Kim-made."
Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has compared the North Korean food shortage withfamines that killed 7 million people in the Soviet Ukraine in 1933 and 30 million people in China's "Great Leap Forward" in the late 1950s.
"They [North Korean officials] universally blame the floods of 1995 and 1996," Mr. Natsios, a former official with World Vision, said in a forum sponsored by the relief group.
"In fact, the chronic food shortage is a result of poor agricultural policies, widespread soil erosion, collapse of the industry producing agricultural inputs and the simple fact that only 20 percent of the land is arable," said Mr. Natsios, a famine expert who directed U.S. aid to Ethiopia and Somalia.
Mr. Kim is responsible for policies that attempted to boost the production of rice and corn at the expense of nearly every other commodity. The government also mandated the overuse of chemical fertilizers that poisoned much of the nation's soil, as well as a disastrous experiment with terraced farming on mountainsides.
A poor credit rating and a history of unpaid loans made it nearly impossible for North Korea to purchase tractors, spare parts and agricultural supplies when support from Moscow was halted after the Soviet Union's collapse.
Nicholas Eberstadt, a Korea analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, also blames the ongoing food shortage on Mr. Kim's decision to devote what little resources he has to his nation's massive military machine, rather than purchasing grain from commercial markets.
"North Korea's food problem, like its other major economic problems, is the direct consequence of policies that Pyongyang has carefully selected and relentlessly enforced," Mr. Eberstadt writes in his book, "The End of North Korea."
Mr. Kim is unlikely to adopt economic and agricultural reforms because they might weaken his grip on power, according to Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean official to defect to the South.
"Kim controls the entire country and people with food distribution," said Mr. Hwang, who had served as Mr. Kim's mentor, after he arrived in Seoul.
In recent years, food aid from the United States and other nations has made up more than 30 percent of the caloric intake of North Koreans.
But food isn't directed toward the neediest, instead going first to the military, those working in priority jobs such as the production of missiles for export, and to party loyalists.
In 1998, Doctors Without Borders and several other relief groups pulled out of North Korea in protest over government restrictions that prohibited them from monitoring food distribution.
Norbert Vollertsen, a physician working with a German relief group, arrived in North Korea in July 1999. He was ordered to leave 18 months later, but not before documenting on videotape and in photographs the starvation and oppression in North Korea.
"Kim is an upgraded version of Nazi Germany's Hitler," Dr. Vollertsen said after emerging from North Korea. "He's committing genocide."
Despite the crisis Mr. Kim created when he restarted his nuclear weapons program, the Bush administration says it will allow food aid to go to North Korea to meet the immediate crisis. But experts say the long-term solution to the food crisis won't come until basic reforms are enacted.

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