To North Koreans, the period just before the spring barley harvest is known as "barley hill." In the past, failure to get over the "hill" has meant death by starvation, particularly during the famine years a decade ago, during which some two million North Koreans died. Even though Seoul is now sending 400,000 tons of rice each month to the North, NGOs have reported scattered food shortages.
Hard to believe that we just sent the NY Phil there… and the whole country is still stuck with a sort of autocratic militaristic feudal police state. …and yet the government is seeing to it that it's citizens remain in the country, despite the starvation conditions.
The situation is unlikely to improve. Sources say it was once relatively easy to bribe North Korean border guards to look the other way when people tried to cross over. Not so now. "It appears the North Koreans have increased salaries on the border, or put more senior guards there, over the past year or so, because things are more difficult now," says a Christian activist working under cover in China. This source, whose group claims to have moved hundreds of North Koreans to freedom over the past three years, says the flow is "now down to a trickle." Public executions, he adds, "are meant to ensure that that remains the case."