SHENYANG, China--As Pyongyang celebrated its successful launch of a new type of ballistic missile on Feb. 12, rural North Koreans were facing the dire specter of starvation, a source here revealed.

A Chinese source associated with the tourism industry who visited Rason, located on the northeastern tip of North Korea, this month reported hearing from a North Korean acquaintance that “an elderly neighbor starved to death this winter.”

The source also was told that 300 people starved to death this winter in Rason alone.

Although North Korea is said to have experienced a bountiful harvest this past year, Rason residents are only given a ration of about 300 grams of grain a day.

They have little room to improve their lot. Rice produced in China is offered on the local black market, but prices have skyrocketed lately, and food aid from other nations has diminished following Pyongyang’s nuclear test last year.

“I have witnessed citizens hiding behind bushes who are attempting to defect near the national border, but it’s a very difficult task as security along the border has been heightened,” the source said. “They have nowhere to run.”

Meanwhile, Pyongyang residents face a different reality, as the capital continues to flourish under Kim Jong Un’s “byungjin” policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear development and economic reform. Some residents are well-off enough to purchase such high-end items as imported liquor and cosmetic products, suggesting an ever-growing gap between the nation’s rich and poor.

Some experts believe that Pyongyang will fire another missile around April 15, the 105th anniversary of the birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, which may spur more rural residents in despair to try and flee the nation.