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SLUG: KOREA / FOOD / ALBRIGHT DATE: NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=10/24/00

TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT

TITLE=KOREA / FOOD / ALBRIGHT

NUMBER=5-47220

BYLINE=KYLE KING

DATELINE=PYONGYANG

INTERNET=YES

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

INTRO: Secretary of State Albright's visit to North Korea has underscored the country's newfound desire to seek closer relations with the west. But despite the growing openness, the communist country's history of isolation could compound the enormous difficulties that lie ahead. From Pyongyang, V-O-A's Kyle King reports.

TEXT: Between meetings with top North Korean officials, Secretary of State Albright attended a government-arranged extravaganza involving more than 100-thousand active participants. She also took time out Monday to visit a group of children at the Jongbaek Number Two Kindergarten.

/// SINGING SOUNDS, FADES ///

The bright-eyed boys and girls who danced and sang for Ms. Albright and Monday's mass performance show the cultural richness and pride that North Korea wishes to portray.

The beaming faces of the young children smiling at the secretary from the school courtyard show no sign of the country's enormous difficulties, including food shortages and starvation, that remain hidden behind a veil of government-imposed secrecy.

Douglas Broderick, the director of the World Food Program, which provides U-S wheat and other aid to the kindergarten, says droughts, floods and poor harvests continue to create a perilous situation in North Korea's countryside.

/// BRODERICK ACT ///

In the rural areas, obviously we are quite concerned about the northeast, because the northeast - obviously Hamhung and Chongjin - are areas..., you know, there are big urban cities there, and obviously with the economy not going on, you know not as the way it was in the past, there are problems there with food security.

/// END ACT ///

Food shortages have been so severe for so long, that they are a well-known fact. Aid programs, like the one at the Jongbaek Number Two school, help feed about eight million people, a third of the country's population.

Secretary of State Albright praised the aid workers who have faced enormous difficulties operating in the tightly controlled communist system. But she expressed optimism that an opening of the society will make things easier.

/// ALBRIGHT ACT ///

I also hope the cooperation we have begun to see between the D-P-R-K [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] and the international community will continue to expand, to the benefit of all the people of this country.

/// END ACT ///

But helping a nation that has openly expressed hostility to the west for half a century poses challenges that are difficult to quantify.

Just to take one example, simple activities like traveling around to assess the situation are difficult, if not impossible.

During Secretary of State Albright's visit, the government allowed one of the largest groups of western reporters ever into the country.

But the group has been largely confined to the hotel and monitored by government-appointed English-speaking guides who restricted picture-taking and forbade interviews with ordinary people. Requests to do so always bring the same answer.

/// ACT OF QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION ///

Reporter question: Just in general is it against the law to take a picture? It's not against the law.

Answer: No, No, it's not against the law. [It's] against the rules, I think.

/// END ACT ///

Over and over the guide told us that we were guests in his country and we should obey the rules.

But hiding the country's problems is impossible. Rolling blackouts darken the blocks of gray communist-style apartment buildings along the road from the airport. Roads are empty because of the lack of fuel.

U-S officials say those kinds of problems can only be solved by closer cooperation with the international community. But that cooperation will be difficult given the legacy of isolation and antagonism that has been a hallmark of the North Korean government until now. (signed)

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