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North Korean Black Market Goods Help Break Hermit Kingdom's Information Blockade

Thursday, May 15, 2008

U.S. and South Korean officials are meeting in Washington this week to discuss provision of food aid to North Korea, amid concerns that the impoverished country is en route to severe famine. Seoul is waiting for Pyongyang to officially request its help, while Washington is basing the timing of its 500,000-ton donation on Pyongyang's progress toward a denuclearization agreement. The talks come just days after Pyongyang released 18,000 pages worth of documents on its weapons-grade plutonium program.

But nuclear weapons technology isn't all that's being bought and sold on the black market in North Korea. After the famine of the 1990s claimed more than a million lives, civilians set up farmers markets to trade food stuffs -- sometimes those donated by international aid agencies -- to stave off starvation. Now all manner of things are bought and sold on North Korean streets, and in some cases that includes cell phones, radios, and other devices that allow the outside world to penetrate the Hermit Kingdom. ...

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