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N. Korea Rejects US Humanitarian Food Aid

Posted March. 19, 2009 09:51,   


North Korea has rejected U.S. humanitarian food aid that the impoverished country has received since June last year, the U.S. State Department said yesterday.

Department spokesman Robert Wood told a daily briefing, “North Korea has informed the United States that it does not wish to receive additional U.S. food assistance at this time.” On when the North gave the notice, he said two to three days ago.

“The food aid program was intended to try to help get food to needy North Koreans, and we’re obviously disappointed in that,” he said. “Humanitarian assistance that we provide to the North has nothing to do with the six-party talks. This is about our true humanitarian concern for these people. And as you know, the food situation in North Korea is not a good one, and so we’re very concerned about it.”

The program was launched in June last year by the Bush administration at a cost of 15 million U.S. dollars after the North began nuclear disablement by demolishing a cooling tower in its Yongbyon nuclear facility.

Washington has promised 500,000 tons of food -- 400,000 tons via the World Food Program and 100,000 tons via U.S. NGOs. Around 169,000 tons have been delivered to the communist country.

U.S. food assistance to the North had been halted in 2005 over lack of transparency in food distribution.

Though the State Department declined to elaborate on the reason for the North’s refusal, experts blamed the political situation on the Korean Peninsula such as increasing tension from Pyongyang’s planned missile launch and the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise Key Resolve.

South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told a gathering of senior reporters in Seoul yesterday, “We’ve kept a close eye on the North’s stance on receiving U.S. food aid during the joint military drill.”

“(Pyongyang’s refusal of aid) is an answer to the situation in which South Korea, the United States and Japan criticize the North’s official announcement to launch what it calls a satellite.”

Others, however, said Pyongyang is taking preemptive action against an expected suspension of U.S. aid if the launch proceeds early next month.

Another hypothesis is that the North is angry over the U.S. request to step up monitoring on food distribution and increase the number of Korean-speaking personnel. The North blasted the request as an attempt to spy on every corner of the North under the guise of humanitarian aid.

North Korea has also ordered relief aid workers out of the country. AFP quoted Joy Portella, spokeswoman for the international charity group Mercy Corps, as saying the North told five NGOs including Mercy Corps to leave the country by the end of the month.

The impoverished North is expected to suffer a food shortage this year of 1.17 million to 1.83 million tons. The Unification Ministry said the North’s food shortfall will reach 1.17 million tons since it produced 4.31 million tons last year, lower than the 5.48 million tons needed to feed its people.

South Korean food aid to the North has been suspended since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration. Under the previous Roh Moo-hyun government, 400,000 to 500,000 tons of rice and 50,000 to 100,000 tons of corn had been sent to the North through the World Food Program every year.