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Starving North Koreans are kidnapping the children of wealthy families for ransom

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Starving North Koreans resort to kidnapping the children of wealthy families and demanding ransoms so they can afford to eat.

At least four child abductions have been reported in recent weeks in the secretive country, which is grappling with international sanctions imposed on Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Shortages of food, medicine, fuel and other daily necessities have worsened since Pyongyang completely closed its borders in January 2020 to prevent Covid-19 from entering the country.

The regime feared that the country’s outdated and ill-equipped health care system would collapse if the coronavirus spread among the population.

Officially, there are no cases of coronavirus in the country, which shares a 1,352 km border with China that is often crossed by smugglers.

As such, experts consider it impossible that the virus did not reach North Korea, despite being the first country in the world to close its borders in response to the coronavirus.

Even Kim has hinted that his isolated homeland is on the brink of catastrophe, comparing its domestic situation to the devastating four-year famine in the mid-1990s that North Koreans call the Great March.

It is estimated that as many as three million people died during this period of famine as a result of chronic economic mismanagement, the collapse of the food distribution system and the cessation of aid from other communist countries.

At least four child abductions have been reported in the mysterious country in recent weeks [Stock image]

At least four child abductions have been reported in the mysterious country in recent weeks [Stock image]

There have been recent reports of famine in remote parts of the country as industry and agriculture have largely ground to a halt due to a lack of fuel and spare parts.

There are also widespread reports of theft, even among the ill-fed conscripts who make up most of the country’s military, and civilians are growing desperate too.

Last month, a six-year-old girl disappeared while playing near a river outside her home in Songchon County, north of Pyongyang. Radio Free Asia reported.

“She was kidnapped and held hostage by a man in his thirties who lived in a village far away from her,” a source in North Korea told the Washington, DC-based outlet.

“The kidnapper knew her family was right and even got her parents’ cell phone number before taking her to get ransom.”

The source, who was not identified to protect their identities, said the kidnapper had locked the girl in a room in his home and demanded 500,000 won (less than £55) from her parents.

However, the police were able to locate the man’s phone and arrest him. The child has been safely returned to her parents and the kidnapper awaits his trial.

Another Radio Free Asia contact in the north reported a similar case where a 10-year-old boy walked along a road in central Yangdok district.

A man, who appeared to be in his forties, stopped next to the child on his motorcycle and offered him a ride home.

The boy later realized he had been kidnapped, but managed to escape and reported the incident to the police, who arrested the man.

“During the police investigation, he confessed that he borrowed his friend’s motorcycle to recreate a scene from a foreign film where actors were held hostage for ransom,” the source said. “He said he had no food and was hungry.”

Even the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, has hinted that North Korea is on the brink of catastrophe, comparing its domestic situation to the devastating four-year famine in the mid-1990s that hit North Koreans call it a heavy march.  Pictured: Emaciated children in North Korea's Taesong District in 1997 during the famine

Even the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has hinted that North Korea is on the brink of catastrophe, comparing its domestic situation to the devastating four-year famine in the mid-1990s that hit North Koreans call it a heavy march. Pictured: Emaciated children in North Korea’s Taesong District in 1997 during the famine

The South Korea-based Daily NK media outlet reported two more child abduction cases in Ryanggang province, on North Korea’s northern border with China.

On May 12, a man picked up a boy from a kindergarten in the city of Hyesan, who claimed to be the father of a six-year-old student. The boy’s mother later received a demand for nearly £600, which she reported to the police.

Authorities were able to locate the man and the boy was released without injuries about eight hours after his abduction.

Until June, police were still trying to identify the man based on descriptions from kindergarten staff.

Later that same month, authorities arrested a man as he was about to board a train at Hyesan station with a five-year-old he had kidnapped for ransom.

Locals in the area said parents have “increasing concerns” over the recent kidnappings and parents are concerned that the same could happen to “their own children at any time” and may not be solved as easily as the May cases.

News of the desperate efforts North Koreans will make to feed themselves comes amid rampant speculation about the country’s leader’s apparent weight loss.

Kim, 37, has been photographed looking noticeably thinner in recent public appearances, sparking health concerns that have forced the government to ban gossip about his weight, labeling it a “reactionary act.”

In an effort to quell the rumours, the apparatchik told state media that Kim is eating less “in the interest of the country” as it struggles with food shortages, stressing that he is healthy.

News of the desperate efforts North Koreans will make to feed themselves comes amid rampant speculation about the country's leader's apparent weight loss.  Pictured: Kim (center in white) in late August

News of the desperate efforts North Koreans will make to feed themselves comes amid rampant speculation about the country’s leader’s apparent weight loss. Pictured: Kim (center in white) in late August

In an effort to quell the rumours, the apparatchik told state media that Kim is eating less

In an effort to quell the rumours, the apparatchik told state media that Kim is eating less “in the interest of the country” as it struggles with food shortages, stressing that he is healthy. Pictured: Kim in 2018 [File photo]

However, there have been reports that Kim may have gotten a gastric band to lose weight.

Others have argued that the Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened the need for the leader to shed some pounds.

State TV even spoke to someone who said his ‘starving’ condition ‘broke the hearts of our people’ in a highly unusual broadcast about two months ago.

Experts believe this was a cynical attempt to gain sympathy for Kim, whose country is gripped by an economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic and a poor harvest.

Known as a heavy drinker and smoker, Kim has been obese for a long time, and his weight seems to be steadily increasing in recent years.

His tall stature is similar to that of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the founding father of the country who enjoyed a cult-like following that lasts long after his death.

Observers in North Korea have long speculated that Kim Jong-un would deliberately cultivate an overweight appearance to look more like his grandfather.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, pointed out that Kim’s recent weight loss was unlikely to be a symptom of acute ill health, as he had attended several public events this month.

“No one can really know why he lost weight,” he told AFP. “What’s clear – from the KCTV footage – is that the regime wants the world to think its people love and care about its leader, to the point where they would cry at his slimmer appearance.”

Pictured: Kim Jong Un's watch band shown in North Korean state propaganda in June appeared to confirm his weight loss, compared to photos from December 2020 and March 2021, which show his watch band fastened more loosely on his thicker wrists. to be able to wear.  Photos from June showed more of the watch band after the buckle

Pictured: Kim Jong Un’s watch band shown in North Korean state propaganda in June appeared to confirm his weight loss, compared to photos from December 2020 and March 2021, which show his watch band fastened more loosely on his thicker wrists. to be able to wear. Photos from June showed more of the watch band after the buckle

“The most likely reason they would cite his weight loss this way would, in my opinion, be related to ongoing COVID-19-related border controls,” said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Seoul-based Korea Risk Group.

“Regardless of the motivation for Kim’s rapid weight loss, it seems there is propaganda value in showing that even the leader of North Korea is experiencing the same food shortages that are currently afflicting the country.”

The regime may have wanted to emphasize from the outset that Kim is working hard for the people at a time of widespread hardship, or his posts may have been an unintended consequence of Kim’s inevitable appearance, Green said.

“The bottom line is that the North Korean regime has received word from its many, many, many informants that Kim’s condition was a topic of conversation among ordinary people,” he said.

“From there, it’s easy to respond by designing a propaganda strategy to use the existing public discussion to the benefit of the regime.”

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