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Burn-out ’haunts North Korea’

The Straits Times, 9 January 2001

SEOUL—A German doctor, thrown out of North Korea, said yesterday that the people of the communist state are suffering burn-out syndrome with widespread alcoholism adding to crippling food and power shortages.

The 42-year-old doctor told a Seoul press conference that he was thrown out of North Korea last week, after 18 months of working in a hospital north of Pyongyang, for criticising human rights abuses.

There is a lot of alcoholism. It is the only pleasure they have. The main sickness is a burn-out syndrome, said Dr Norbert Vollersten, who worked for the Komittee Cap Anamur German Emergency Doctors.

Food is reportedly costlier than low-quality liquor made from cereal, corn and potatoes.

He said North Koreans were extremely fearful of arbitrary detention and torture. He accused the North Korean leadership of using repression to control grievances and dissent.

The use of intelligence surveillance, shadowing, wiretapping and mail interception causes social depression, forcing many to drink heavily, he said. —AFP