US, North Korea to Discuss US Food Assistance

Posted March 6th, 2012 at 4:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Two U.S. envoys arrived in Beijing Tuesday for talks with North Korea on finalizing the details of a plan for 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid for the communist nation and monitoring its distribution to ensure the aid reaches the most needy.

The discussions, attended by Robert King, the special envoy for human rights in North Korea, and Jon Brause, a senior official at the U.S. Agency for International Development, begin Wednesday and could stretch to Thursday. If successful, the talks could move forward the first round of food assistance in nearly three years.

Washington suspended its food assistance program to the North in 2009, after Pyongyang expelled U.S. food monitors and also due to concerns the food was being diverted to North Korea's military or members of its political elite.

David Austin, North Korea program director with Mercy Corps — a U.S. non-governmental organization that has worked with Washington and other NGO's to help distribute and monitor the distribution of food aid in North Korea — told VOA the first round of food aid will go a long way because it targets the most vulnerable.

Bijaya Rajbhandari, the representative for the United Nations Children's Fund which is working to help alleviate the problem of malnutrition and other health problems in North Korea, has welcomed the prospect of more aid.

He told VOA the aid from the U.S. could complement UNICEF's efforts that are already ongoing in 25 of North Korea's 209 counties.

North Korea has suffered from widespread hunger due to floods and poor harvests. A major famine in the 1990s is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands, if not a million North Koreans.

Despite its political differences with North Korea, the U.S. has been the biggest single contributor of food aid to the communist state since the famine.