S. Korea remain lukewarm on food aid to DPRK

16:32, May 18, 2011      

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South Korea reiterated Wednesday its stance on food aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), saying its assistance would for now be limited only to those in the direst need.

"Under current circumstances, the government believes that assistance for the vulnerable, including infants, children and pregnant women, should be prioritized, and that transparency in aid distribution should be verified," Lee Jong-ju, spokeswoman for the unification ministry in Seoul, which overseas inter-Korean affairs, told reporters in a briefing.

"It is our position that decisions on large-scale aid funded by the government would be made not only on the basis of humanitarian situations in North Korea (DPRK) but also on our assessment on inter-Korean relations in general," she added.

Her remarks came amid rising expectations that the United States will soon decide whether to send officials to Pyongyang on a mission aimed at assessing food situations of the country faced with chronic food shortages.

It has been widely speculated that Robert King, U.S. special envoy for DPRK human rights, will travel to Pyongyang next week. Washington is to announce its decision in a few days.

Seoul officials have appeared lackadaisical at best to calls for food aid to Pyongyang by United Nations agencies, which say the DPRK is in need of 434,000 tons of food assistance to tackle its critical food shortage affecting a quarter of its 24 million population.

South Korea suspended aid to its northern neighbor as relations between two former wartime enemies soured, allowing only emergency humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable.

Punitive measures against Pyongyang, including the drastic cut in aid, still remain in place, according to the unification ministry.

"We estimate (North Korea) is short of one million tons of food each year, and given the country's chronic food shortages, we don' t think this year is particularly worse than preceding years," Lee added.

Source: Xinhua
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