There are fears some famine-stricken North Koreans are being forced into cannibalism following claims a man was executed for murdering his two children for food.
The incident was reported by the Asia Press and published in The Sunday Times. The same investigation also contains details of a man who dug up his grandchild's corpse for food, and another who boiled his child and ate the flesh.
The Sunday Times refers to a "hidden famine" in the notoriously secretive country, which could be responsible for up to 10,000 deaths in the last year alone.
A malnourished North Korean boy is fed a vitamin and mineral-enriched porridge supplied by the United Nations World Food Programme in 2004 (file picture)
The reports, which have been picked up by other major news outlets too, are described as "credible". The Independent reports the claims of one "citizen journalist" who said a man in his village was executed by firing squad after trying to eat his children.
The source said: "While his wife was away on business he killed his eldest daughter and, because his son saw what he had done, he killed his son as well. When the wife came home, he offered her food, saying: 'We have meat.'
"But his wife, suspicious, notified the Ministry of Public Security, which led to the discovery of part of their children's bodies under the eaves."
Fears of cannibalism in the country surfaced in 2003 too, amid testimony from refugees who claimed poor harvests and food aid sanctions had resulted in children being killed and corpses cut up for food.
A propaganda poster showing the former North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung (L) and his son Kim Jong-Il (M) with farmers, at a farming commune outside Pyongyang in 2008
According to The Telegraph, requests by the United Nations World Food Programme to access "farmers' markets" where human meat was said to be traded, were turned down by Pyongyang, citing "security reasons".
Those caught selling human meat face execution, but one source told the North Korean Refugees Assistance Fund: "Pieces of 'special' meat are displayed on straw mats for sale. People know where they come from, but they don't talk about it."
In June last year the United Nations said two-thirds of the country's 24 million people were facing chronic food shortages.
It added nearly a third of children under the age of 5 showed signs of stunting, particularly in rural areas. According to the Associated Press:
"The report paints a bleak picture of deprivation in the countryside, not often seen by outsiders, who are usually not allowed to travel beyond the relatively prosperous Pyongyang, where cherubic children are hand-picked to attend government celebrations and a middle-class with a taste for good food have the means to eat out."
It also bolstered criticism of the government, which critics say should be spending money on food security instead of military strength.
North Korea claims strong military and nuclear deterrents are necessary against the perceived joint threats from the US and South Korea. Tensions rose even further in December following a long-range rocket launch.
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more