A North Korean waits to cross a tributary on the banks of the Yalu River near Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, China's largest border city with North Korea. More North Koreans facing food shortages are calling friends and relatives for help, according to multiple sources. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, March 31 (UPI) -- Core members of North Korea's bureaucracy could be facing critical food shortages in the wake of new sanctions, and some are reaching out to defectors for assistance.
A North Korean defector in the South with the surname Kim told Radio Free Asia that an acquaintance in North Korea's State Security Department had called him at his South Korean phone number "numerous times" requesting help.
"I don't know how he came across my phone number, but he requested I help him several times," the defector said.
Kim, who is from the North Korean city of Musan, said the security official had helped him three years ago by lowering a criminal sentence, and the two had lived out a "symbiotic relationship" in the authoritarian society, Yonhap reported.
The defector added state officials in North Korea typically receive food rations well after retirement, and the official's unusual move to reach out to the outside world for help "while losing his face" could mean the latest sanctions on North Korea are having a major impact.
Another source, an ethnic Korean in China, told RFA that he has recently been receiving more phone calls from relatives, telling him "life is difficult."
The source, who remained unidentified, said he was told the price of rice in the gray markets of Chongjin, a North Korean border city, has risen dramatically in recent weeks, along with everyday items available for purchase.
The source did not say whether the gray market fluctuations were the result of sanctions.
Radio Free Asia said the food situation is expected to get tougher as sanctions are implemented more thoroughly.