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Hungry North Korean coal miners said to have held strike

Reuters, Tuesday 28 August 2001, 12:01 PM

SEOUL (Reuters)—Coal miners in hungry North Korea staged a large-scale strike to demand food last month while leader Kim Jong-il was visiting Russia, a South Korean newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The Dong-a Ilbo, quoting sources familiar with North Korea in a report from Beijing, said miners in North Korea’s North Hamkyung province went on strike to demand food.

The coal miners seized the opportunity of Kim’s absence to mount a large-scale strike and in the middle of the month, the Hamkyung North party secretary rushed to China’s Jilin province, bought 2,000 tonnes of corn for $310,000 and left, the daily quoted the source as saying.

The report did not identify the Chinese source and did not give the date of the strike, the number of labours involved or the name of the mine.

Diplomats said they were not able to confirm the reported strike, which was also carried on South Korea’s KBS radio.

Reports of labour unrest are rare from the tightly sealed Communist state and human rights groups and defectors say North Korea crushes dissent swiftly and violently, with methods including public executions.

In a rare foreign trip, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il returned to North Korea on August 18 after a three-week railway trip across Russia to Moscow and back.

North Korea has suffered chronic food shortages since the mid-1990s after natural disasters compounded shortcomings of its planned economy.

A U.S. State Department report in February estimated that a million North Koreans had died of starvation and related diseases since 1995.

The executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, Catherine Bertini, told reporters in Seoul on Monday that the WFP was feeding 7.6 million of North Korea’s 22 million people.