North Koreans Defect To Avoid Starvation

A NORTH Korean who led his family across a frozen river to freedom said yesterday that hunger and discontent are growing in the hard-line Communist state.

Yeh Man Chul arrived in Seoul Saturday with his wife and three children. It was the first family defection since 1987. Seven other North Koreans have fled to South Korea this year, and more than 100 who escaped from North Korean logging camps in Siberia are seeking to defect. Mr. Yeh said several people in his apartment building had died of starvation since food distribution stopped last August, and that some people were eating bark and roots.

In recent years, North Korea has become more isolated with the fall of former Communist allies. An unusually cold growing season that affected most of East Asia is believed to have destroyed much of the North Korean crop. In a rare admission of trouble, the Pyongyang government earlier this year acknowledged the country was facing economic difficulties. Laos attempts to avert famine

LAOS is racing against time to head off the threat of famine that could affect more than 10 percent of the population. The worst drought in memory decimated their rice harvest.

Nationwide, the 1993 harvest was 1.25 million metric tons, almost 17 percent lower than the previous year, according to government figures. The worst-hit provinces include those that traditionally produce surpluses from which other provinces can draw. The food shortage is jeopardizing the government's plans to break out of the grip of poverty and malnutrition, officials and economists said over the weekend.

Assisted by the United Nations World Food Programme and relief agencies, Lao authorities are now transporting emergency rice supples to the worst-hit communities, many in remote mountainous regions soon to be cut off by the rains.

The shortage also threatens to scuttle government plans for developing the country, ranked among the world's poorest. Provincial officials say Laos will remain dependent on the climate until more extensive irrigation systems can be built to ensure rice crops and allow farmers to diversify. Destruction of Indochina's bounty

IN the hills and jungles of Indochina, where men fought each other for decades, they are now felling the trees for quick profit and killing some of the world's rarest animals.

Conservationists agree that the push for economic development and foreign investment is leading to wholesale destruction of the once Eden-like forests, waters, and wildlife of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Logs-for-guns trade between Cambodia's Khmer Rouge guerrillas and Thai businessmen is destroying the tropical forests of western Cambodia, while Vietnamese loggers prey on wooded areas of the northeast.

Vietnam has passed some impressive environmental legislation, but much of the country's incredibly rich wildlife can be found at the Cau Mong market in Ho Chi Minh City - stuffed, dried, pickled, and trapped in cages. A pelt of the nearly extinct clouded leopard sells for $400, and monkeys fetch $25 each.

Laos still has large tracts of intact forest and is seen as Indochina's last green hope, but logs and hydroelectric power also are its most valuable exports. Deforestation is regarded as Indochina's greatest environmental problem. Chemical defoliants used by the United States in the Vietnam War caused large-scale destruction of forests. Now, agricultural clearing, logging, and the domestic use of wood are dwindling forests.

About 70 percent of Laos was covered with trees in 1970, compared with less than 47 percent now. Vietnam's green canopy has shrunk from 44 percent in 1942 to about 28 percent, and Cambodia's from 73 percent in 1960 to less than 40 percent.

But some victories are being won. Vietnam has created 87 national parks and hopes to designate more. Cambodia would make more than a dozen national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. All three countries want to increase the areas closed to logging.

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