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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 18:46 GMT
Fear and loathing in North Korea
A North Korean soldier holds shells to blow up Capitol Hill in a North Korean poster
North Korea is convinced there will be a war
Mike Thomson, BBC Radio 4's Today Programme reporter who has just returned from Pyongyang, reports on the freezing temperatures and rising tensions in North Korea.

The city's underground system, with its sinister piped music, still works, largely thanks to having its own electricity supply, but everywhere else, life is slowly spluttering to a chilly, uncomfortable halt.

Sometimes the weather is as cold as -20 Centigrade and many of our homes have no heat at all

Kim Jae-rok, director of the government's energy ministry
Most of the country lacks any heating or lighting, food is scarce, and the winters here are freezing.

Kim Jae-rok, director of the government's energy ministry, admits that times are not just hard, they are desperate.

"Sometimes the weather is as cold as minus 20C and many of our homes have no heat at all. Not only that, but most live in high-rise buildings and we lack the power to pump water up to those on above floors," he said.

"So many elderly people have no heating or water and sometimes have to walk up 40 or more floors because there's no power for the elevators either. Just imagine the suffering this causes," he added.

Pointing the finger

Mr Kim pins the blame, like most people here, on the United States, for pushing the country to freeze its nuclear programme, back in 1994.

Pyongyang subway
Pyongyang's subway still works, but elsewhere life is stalling

"At that time, the 5-MegaWatt (MW) plant was working and we had started building two much bigger 50- and 200-MW atomic power plants. These would have produced 255,000 MW by the end of last year All were stopped, " he told me,

"We now need to build a total of five atomic energy plants to recoup that loss and meet the energy needs of our country... People are suffering, we cannot delay. We must do this as soon as possible, it is very urgent," Mr Kim warned.

Such a plan will not be music to the ears of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], or the American Government, who feel that the Yongbyon nuclear storage facility is already enough to worry about, without adding several more even larger plants that inspectors cannot visit.

Pyongyang insists that such schemes will be for peaceful purposes only, but that will not be enough in these nervous times.

Regular air raid drills and black-outs are now becoming part of everyday life here, which is a worrying trend in this volatile and divided land.

Invasion fears

I visited the truce village of Panmunjom, where the Koreas meet. Here, 1.7 million soldiers face each other - one million North Korean, 700,000 South Korean and 37,000 American. This is the place things could ignite.

Major Ri Kun-chol of the North Korean army acknowledges the risks of nuclear rows in a place where some opposing forces stand no more than 2 feet apart.

But he insists that his government has no plans to develop nuclear weapons, though he seems to believe that there is no reason why it should not, when others are not giving up theirs.

Apartments in Pyongyang
Lifts in apartment blocks have reportedly stopped

"Have you ever heard us insisting that the US tells us that it is developing nuclear weapons?" he asks. "Our people don't want war, but if the United States provokes another Korean War here, we'll give them a big blow in a very unexpected way."

The major points to an article in a Pyongyang paper claiming to have proof of a detailed American plan to invade his country. But does he really believe this is true?

"Yes, it's true, it's all true. I have seen the newspaper. Korean newspapers don't tell lies. They are always fair and reflect reality."

At the Korean War Museum in Sinchon, south of Pyongyang, tourists are taken on a ghoulish tour of alleged American atrocities.

It includes the following: "He pulls the nails out of his fingers with pliers, then he pulled the nail out of his toes. They killed him by driving a dagger through his body. The poor man was 70 years old."

The curator was too young to fight then, and he looks too old now, should hostilities flare up again. But rather worryingly he, and many of his countrymen, seem to be almost hoping they will.

"We are now trying to turn all our country into a fortress. This can repel the enemy's attack. Not only the Korean people's army but all the people they are fully armed, ready to fight a war," he said.

Clive Myrie reports from North Korea
"This is a land of fear and secrets"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

See also:

12 Feb 03 | Asia-Pacific
06 Feb 03 | Asia-Pacific
06 Feb 03 | Asia-Pacific
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