More empty stomachs in North Korea as Kim plans reforms
By Ju-min Park
SEOUL (Reuters) - Talk that North Korea's young leader plans to reform the broken economy is already having an impact. It's helping send rice prices even further out of the reach of most families in one of the world's most under-fed societies.
Seo Jae-pyoung, a defector who now lives in South Korea, spoke this week to a friend in the secretive North who had furtively called him by mobile phone from a mountain-side to plead for cash to be smuggled across to help.
"He couldn't cope with the high prices, saying rice prices had shot up ... and he is running out of money," Seo told Reuters.
"It shows that the economic situation is seriously worsening...I feel that...(it) has already reached the critical point and (leader Kim Jong-un) may know that without reform or openness, the regime is not going to last long."
One of the reasons he and others gave for the price increase was rice hoarding by middlemen hoping that talk of reform would materialise into a chance to turn a profit.
A source with ties to North Korea and its chief backer, China, told Reuters last week that the North is gearing up to experiment with economic reforms.
Evidence is hard to come by in the almost hermetically sealed and suspicious state, where casual contact with outsiders can mean imprisonment. And because it usually takes defectors many months to make their way out of the North to a country where they can speak openly, information can be out of date.
But some of the defectors Reuters spoke to in Seoul said they were in clandestine contact with people inside the North. Reuters also spoke to foreigners who had gone to North Korea in recent months under government-sponsored visits. Continued...