SEOUL (AFP) - Rare video footage from North Korea has emerged showing men enjoying a night out in a karaoke salon catering to relatively wealthy North Koreans making money from often illicit cross-border trade.
The content of the hidden-camera footage, which could not be independently verified, was released by a South Korean pastor, Kim Sung-Eun, known for helping North Koreans escape to Seoul.
The grainy video included footage of a group of men and women, speaking with North Korean accents, drinking beer, singing, dancing and kissing in a South Korean-style karaoke "room salon".
"This is a North Korean equivalent of a room salon, in the form of a restaurant combined with a karaoke where women serve male clients," Pastor Kim told reporters in Seoul. "South Korean culture is very well known in the North via smuggled videos. The speed of it spreading to the North is getting faster and faster," he added.
By the standards of South Korean karaoke salons that employ hostesses and are popular after-hours venues for salarymen, the scene was quite tame.
The women were conservatively dressed and the dancing was only mildly suggestive, with the two women running their hands down each other's clothed bodies.
Pastor Kim said it was one of a new breed of night-life establishments being set up with Chinese funding to cater to North Koreans making money from cross-border trade with its giant neighbour.
"Workers and officials involved in foreign trade have been making fortunes in recent years, and they are the main clients," he told reporters.
Other footage showed a vibrant outdoor market where vendors sold electronics and cell phone accessories.
Video of daily life in North Korea, especially outside Pyongyang, remains very rare.
Tourists to the North are only taken to approved locations, while foreign journalists who visit or work in North Korea are always accompanied by government minders who control whom and what they film.
Pastor Kim has released similar hidden camera footage before, saying he obtains it from "sources" in North Korea who smuggle it out of the country.
He declined to locate each section of footage, but said it was shot over six months in a number of venues, including the northeastern port cities of Chongjin and the special economic zone of Rajin.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have died of starvation during a famine that peaked in the mid and late 1990s.
Malnutrition remains widespread, according to UN agencies who continue to voice particular concern over stunting in children.
Failures in the state distribution system mean families increasingly rely on unofficial markets and bartering to feed themselves, according to a nationwide assessment published last November by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.
The assessment described food consumption for 84 per cent of households across the country as borderline or poor.
But defectors say that black market and illicit cross-border trading is creating a small, moneyed middle class with the sort of disposable income once restricted to elite officials.