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N. Korea Hints at Asking for Food Aid From South

Posted August. 31, 2009 07:33,   


North Korean officials have hinted at asking for food aid from South Korea, Seoul officials said yesterday.

The North Korean delegation to inter-Korean Red Cross talks last week at Mount Kumgang reportedly mentioned the South’s sufficient supply of rice. The communist country is suffering from chronic food shortages and badly needs food assistance from the South.

A South Korean official quoted North Korean delegates at the Red Cross meeting on reunions of separated families as saying, “We heard the South Korean government and farmers are struggling with a glut of rice.”

The delegates also said, “Farmers in the South suffer from declining rice prices while the government is struggling with storage costs.”

The South Korean official said, “At the venue for the talks, the North Korean delegation only mentioned reunions of separated families. At dinners held Wednesday and Friday, however, they brought up the rice issue,” adding he understands that several North Korean officials talked about the same thing.

Another Seoul official said, “Though they didn’t directly say they need rice, they made an indirect request by expressing worry over the South’s situation.”

This is the first such request by the North since President Lee Myung-bak was inaugurated. The South had sent 400,000 to 500,000 tons of rice to the North every year from 2000 to 2007 except 2006 in the form of loans. The North, however, rejected 50,000 tons of corn offered by the Lee administration in May last year.

Seoul, however, is reluctant to give massive food aid to Pyongyang in a break from the practices of previous South Korean governments. A South Korean government source said, “Four-hundred thousand to 500,000 tons of rice is too much to be considered humanitarian aid. The rice could also go to the North Korean military.”

Separately, Seoul and Hyundai Asan Corp., a South Korean company operating tours to the North, are reportedly considering paying the North in rice instead of U.S. dollars for the tours.