April 16 (UPI) -- North Korea's engagements with the outside world are taking place as the country's impoverished population could be affected by malnutrition.
A North Korean defector activist who requested anonymity told JoongAng Ilbo reporter Lee Young-jong a chronic food shortage is spreading throughout North Korea and ordinary people are "suffering" because in some areas the public distribution system has been suspended.
"There are stories the distribution network has virtually collapsed, not only in Pyongyang but also in regional cities," the source said, adding worries about price instability are hampering the proper distribution of groceries in informal markets.
The South Korean report describes the defector as a "high-ranking" activist who may have declined to be named because of the political undercurrents in the South following détente.
High-ranking defectors like Thae Yong-ho, the former No.2 man at the North Korean Embassy in London, has stayed away from media appearances, the Chosun Ilbo reported Saturday.
Thae was previously active in the defector community and traveled to Washington last year to testify before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
North Koreans are fearful of a second Great Famine, when as many as 3 million North Koreans may have died.
Seoul's unification ministry and national intelligence service are not alarmed, however.
Both agencies have said sanctions have hit North Korea but the state has not reached a stage where it needs emergency relief, according to Lee.
That position contradicts statements from the Food and Agriculture Organization, which stated in its Global Report on Food Crises that 41 percent of the population, or 10.5 million people, are undernourished in North Korea.
North and South Korean leaders are to meet at their first summit on April 27, and according to South Korean analyst Park Jae-kyu of Kyungnam University, Seoul must not compromise on denuclearization, Kyunghyang Sinmun reported Monday.
Park, a former unification minister, said in order to attain tangible results the meeting should not be rushed, according to the report.