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(LEAD) Alleged N. Korean police document reports case of cannibalism

All Headlines 11:09 June 20, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with comment by South Korean official in 10th para)

SEOUL, June 20 (Yonhap) -- An alleged North Korean police document reported a case of cannibalism, a South Korean missionary group said Monday, a development, if confirmed, that could support what has long been rumored in the North.

There have been accounts among some defectors of eating human flesh amid chronic food shortages that culminated in a massive famine in the late 1990s that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.

The North has since relied on international handouts to feed its 24 million people.

The North's police released a 791-page report in 2009 to give guidance on how to deal with criminals, and its preface said the report was based on previous events and possible circumstances.

The report, later obtained by South Korea's Caleb Mission, provided a rare look into the alleged cannibalism and other crimes, but it did not say whether cannibalism has become a widespread practice.

In one account, a male guard who could not bear his hunger killed his colleague using an ax, ate some of the human flesh and sold the remainder in the market by disguising it as mutton, the report said, without giving any further details such as when the alleged crime occurred.

Kookmin Daily, a local newspaper that first reported the case, said there were four more crimes related to cannibalism in the North's police report, but no details were given.

A North Korean defector also claimed that he witnessed the public execution of a North Korean man charged with selling human flesh in the market around 1997.

"There were many cases" of cannibalism at that time, the defector said in a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency. He asked not to be identified, citing safety concerns for his family.

Chun Hae-sung, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs, told reporters that it's not appropriate for the government to either confirm or mention the alleged cannibalism. He also said it is difficult determine the authenticity of the report, which his ministry plans to obtain for analysis.

The report also mentioned the black market of CDs containing South Korean films in a sign of South Korean culture's prevalent popularity inside the isolated country.

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