SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The people of North Korea’s capital have received a special gift from recently deceased leader Kim Jong Il: loads and loads of fish.
North Korea’s state-run media reported that Kim was concerned about the supply of fish in Pyongyang, and had looked into the matter the day before he died. North Korea announced Monday that he died of a massive heart attack on Dec. 17.
A Korean Central News Agency report said Kim’s young son and heir, Kim Jong Un, “took all necessary measures to truck fresh fish to the capital city in time and supply the fish to the citizens, even in the mourning period.”
North Korea is in official mourning until after Kim’s funeral Dec. 28-29.
Hunger and malnutrition are major problems for North Korea’s mostly impoverished population, with the United Nations warning that rations are inadequate and the U.S. considering sending food aid. Kim’s government has long made military spending a priority under the policy of “songun,” or military first.
Official media on Saturday were filled with reports of the fish made available by Kim Jong Il. The Rodong Sinmun — North Korea’s main newspaper — on Saturday showed a photo of a woman covering her mouth in sadness and gratitude as she watched loads of herring and walleye pollack being distributed at a crowded grocery store, where they were piled up in baskets.
The paper added in an editorial that the country will uphold Kim Jong Un as “supreme commander” with vows made in “blood and tears” before Kim Jong Il.
Though Pyongyang is better supplied than other cities, feeding the people is a major problem for North Korea. The U.S. pushed back its long-awaited decision on providing food aid following the death of Kim Jong Il.
North Korea has yet to descend to the depths of famine that killed an estimated 5 to 10 percent of its people in the mid- and late-1990s, but hunger has worsened through the year.
A recent food security and crop assessment by experts from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program said health officials reported a 50 to 100 percent increase this year in hospital admissions of malnourished children.
Their report said much of the North Korean population suffered “prolonged food deprivation” in 2011 as the public distribution system that most rely on was reduced to 200 grams (7 ounces) or less per day, providing only one-third the minimum daily energy requirement. Almost all households surveyed indicated they added water to food to increase its volume, it said.
North Korean media, however, have been flowing with eulogies for Kim Jong Il, who ruled the country for 17 years after the death of his father, North Korea’s national founder and eternal President Kim Il Sung. Both Kims were the object of intense personality cults.
The reports have stressed how the North Korean people are deeply indebted to the largesse of their leaders, despite the deepening political isolation and economic hardship they have faced in recent years.
With Kim Jong Un poised to extend the Kim family dynasty into an additional generation, North Korea is quickly building the mythology by emphasizing his bloodline and the Kim family legacy, from its roots as revolutionaries fighting the Japanese to their spiritual role as protectors of the North Korean people.
The state media has broadcast constant scenes of public mourning, with women and children wailing, soldiers bowing before Kim’s smiling portrait and senior officials lining up to view his body, which is on display in a glass case at the same funeral palace where his father’s embalmed remains are on view.
North Korea has also claimed Kim’s death generated a series of spectacular natural phenomena, creating a mysterious glow atop a revered mountain, cracking a sheet of ice on a lake with a loud roar and inspiring a crane to circle a statue of the nation’s founder before perching in a tree and drooping its head in sorrow.
“Leader Kim Jong Il is always with us as we have respected Comrade Kim Jong Un identical to him,” KCNA quoted Song Hye Yong, a 42-year-old woman, as saying as she carried “a bag full of fish in her hand.”
The report also quoted Kim Jong Hwa, a saleswoman at a grocery in the central district of the city, as saying she was deeply touched by leader Kim Jong Il’s gift of fish to the people.
“All of citizens are deeply moved by his deep care,” she said.
The reports did not specify how much fish was being made available.
Despite initial jitters over possible instability, officials in Seoul and Washington are calling the political transition in North Korea smooth so far. There have been no outward signs of unrest on the streets or unusual troop movements along the borders.
The North, however, is highly sensitive to what it sees as outside threats.
Its government-run website, Uriminzokkiri, has slammed South Korea for putting its military on alert, calling that move an “insult” to a nation in mourning.
The Korean peninsula remains in a state of war because the three-year Korean War ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty. Tanks and troops still guard the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone dividing the two sides.