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(LEAD) N.K. stops drills, sends troops to help farms: source

All Headlines 09:07 May 28, 2008


SEOUL, May 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's 1.1-million strong military has apparently halted its regular military exercises while its troops help farmers raise crops, a source here said Wednesday.

The North's armed services usually hold large-scale inspections and scattered exercises around this time of year ahead of a massive regular summer exercise beginning in August, the source said.

However, they appear to have abandoned their primary role for now to help raise crops, according to the source, who asked not to be identified.

"We are seeing massive support for farming by North Korean troops stationed throughout the country," he said, noting the scale of the military support also appeared to have significantly increased from previous years.

The North's military is often said to render assistance during the farming season, but rarely so frequently that it has to give up its regular exercises. In the North, every resource and effort goes to the military under leader Kim Jong-il's longstanding policy of "Songun," meaning military first.

The rare move comes amid recent reports that Pyongyang is facing a food crisis that is nearly a famine, with tens of thousands expected to starve to death if the international community does not act in the next few months to feed them.

Stephen Linton, head of the Eugene Bell Foundation who recently traveled to the impoverished North, on Tuesday said the "next month" can be very critical for the North if the world does not act.

The World Food Program, a U.N. organization, estimates the North may fall short of some 1.6 million tons of food this year despite its plans to provide 600,000 tons.


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