Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reports of North Korea Food Shortages Overblown, Say US, South Korea

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reports of North Korea Food Shortages Overblown, Say US, South Korea

Article excerpt

The US and South Korea disagree with the United Nations World Food Program about the extent to which North Koreans suffer from lack of food.

The US and South Korea are at odds with the United Nations World Food Program over how seriously North Korea is suffering from lack of food and are in no hurry to resume feeding the North's hungry people.

That conclusion emerges from a study by a US government team that spent 10 days in North Korea assessing the needs - and how likely North Korea is to guarantee enough transparency to determine who gets the food.

South Korean leaders appeared relieved when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently made it clear that the US did not believe North Korea had addressed "serious concerns about monitoring" food distribution. The US still wants to know what happened to 20,000 tons of rice that's strongly believed to have gone to North Korean soldiers when a US food aid program was suspended two years ago.

Ms. Clinton's remarks echoed those of South Korean officials who have been extremely anxious to see whether the US would yield to North Korean entreaties after a team led by US human rights envoy Robert King went to North Korea last month.

"We should be sure the food should not be misdirected and we have a clear monitoring system," says Park Jin-eun, director of the inter- Korea policy division at South Korea's foreign ministry. "The US is in the same position."

How hungry are North Koreans?

A central question is whether North Korea needs emergency shipments as called for by the World Food Program. Yes, Ms. Park acknowledges, "The problem this year is changed by flood and winter cold," but the widespread view here is that North Korea basically has enough food.

It's believed that North Korea wants to stockpile food for celebrations planned next year to mark the 100-year anniversary of the birth of the late Kim Il-sung, the long-reigning "Great Leader" who died in 1994 after passing on power to his son, current leader Kim Jong-il.

"There's a need, but we don't know how great it is," says a knowledgeable western observer. "My hunch is it's less about a shortage of food and more about unequal distribution. …

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