No news is good news for Kim

IT IS getting harder and harder for those of us who yearn to know more about the workers' paradise in North Korea to get reliable information. Since the beginning of this month, the small number of diplomats lucky enough to have won a posting to the capital, Pyongyang, have been told they can only subscribe to two newspapers - the Rodong Shinmun (Labour News) and the Minju Chosun (Democratic Korea).

Foreign envoys are upset that they can no longer receive the Working Youth and Pyongyang News as well, to help them keep up with the fast rate of change in North Korean politics, business and social affairs.

The government said publication of these two august organs had been suspended. Some suspect North Korea's paper shortage, others see it as a way of further restricting foreigners' access to news.

So what is going on in North Korea? Hegemonist lackeys and capitalist running dogs have calculated the economy is now shrinking by about 5 per cent a year. Defectors and ethnic Koreans living along the Chinese border say that even basic foodstuffs are in critically short supply, and that lack of fuel has brought many factories to a standstill.

Peking, Pyongyang's last major ally until it treacherously normalised relations with Seoul in August, announced last month that it would no longer supply oil for barter, and wanted hard currency - something that is in short supply in North Korea.

To escape such negative reporting on this isolated country of 22 million people, the Independent has plunged into the raw data issued by the government itself, through the two remaining newspapers and the official radio station, as received for the week of 29 November-5 December.

It reveals a very different picture, of a country striving to consolidate the gains of four decades of socialism, enjoying cordial relations with foreign countries such as Laos, Malta, Cuba and Iran, and earnestly opposing the US and South Korea for 'fabricating suspicions over North Korea's nuclear arms out of impure intentions' (Rodong Shinmun, 1 December).

After appointing a new ambassador to Cuba on Monday, President Kim Il Sung, 80, ('the greatest of the great men who are distinguished by history . . . there is no problem on earth that he cannot solve'), on Tuesday sent a congratulatory message to the Laotian People's Revolutionary Party.

On the same day an official delegation left for Iran to attend a meeting of the North Korea-Iran Joint Committee for Co-operation in Economic, Scientific and Technological Fields.

Those reactionaries who believe US intelligence reports might think this visit was connected with North Korea's shipments of Scud missiles to Iran over the past year, in exchange for which Pyongyang apparently gets oil and hard currency.

One of the lead foreign news stories on Wednesday was the presentation of credentials of the new North Korean ambassador to Malta, followed by the return of a Workers' Party delegation to China - empty-handed, apparently, if Peking will follow through with its decision only to take hard currency for oil shipments.

On Monday, November 29, the Rodong Shinmun had said that the role of intellectuals must be enhanced, because 'the schemes of the imperialists and counter-revolutionaries to destroy socialism can be overcome only when we follow the Great Leader as sunflowers follow the sun'.