Sat, Sep 10, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Pyongyang wants change in how it gets foreign aid

TOO DEPENDENT North Korea would like to see more long-terms help with development rather than just emergency food supplies from foreigners


North Korea wants the World Food Program to shift the focus of its aid from emergency food supplies to development projects that would help the communist nation feed itself, the aid agency said yesterday.

The impoverished North has received emergency food from the WFP and other international groups to feed its 23 million people since its economy collapsed in the mid-1990s due to natural disasters and mismanagement.

The North Korean government launched talks with aid agencies last month saying that it wants to review their status and expressing "a preference for development assistance over emergency humanitarian assistance," said Gerald Bourke, a Beijing-based spokesman for the World Food Program.

North Korea made a similar plea last year. It is "concerned about developing a dependency syndrome," Bourke said.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Friday that the North demanded last month that the WFP shut its office there and that its food monitors leave the country. Bourke said the report wasn't true.

However, he said the UN agency was in talks with the government about "the terms of what we hope to be a continued presence in the country."

"Very obviously there is considerable humanitarian need still in North Korea," Bourke said.

The WFP tries to feed about 6.5 million North Koreans. Major donors include the US, South Korea, Japan and China, which along with Russia are trying to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Nearly US$2 billion in food aid has flowed into the country over the last decade, according to a report by the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

On Thursday, US President George W. Bush's newly appointed envoy on human rights abuses in North Korea suggested future US food aid might be linked to liberating political prisoners.

"I think consistent with what the president's overall approach is on human rights, and bringing North Korea directly into the community of nations, we have to take a look at all different areas of our relationship," Jay Lefkowitz said at a news conference.

In June, the US decided to ship more than 45,360 tonnes of food supplies to the North, saying the decision was based on humanitarian considerations alone and had nothing to do with efforts to get the North to disarm.

US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said later Thursday that Washington's policy has not changed.

"We do not use food aid as a weapon. Decisions on such assistance are based on need and our ability to ensure that food will reach those for whom it is intended," Casey said.

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