US, North Korea to Discuss US Food Assistance

Posted March 7th, 2012 at 12:35 am (UTC-5)
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Two U.S. envoys are in Beijing for talks with North Korea on details of a plan to supply 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid to the communist nation.

Robert King, the special envoy for human rights in North Korea, said ahead of Wednesday's talks that the nutritional assistance program is “complicated.” He said the talks are aimed at ensuring the aid reaches the most needy.

“We are looking at a program that will help a million or more residents of the DPRK, primarily focused on young children and women who are pregnant and nursing and the elderly and others who are particularly disadvantaged. And we need to make sure that we have the right procedures in place to make sure the assistance reaches those who we are trying to help.”

The talks could clear the way for the first U.S. food assistance to North Korea in three years. Washington suspended its aid in 2009 after Pyongyang expelled U.S. food monitors amid concerns the food was being diverted to North Korea's military or political elite.

David Austin, North Korea program director with Mercy Corps — a private U.S. relief group that has worked with Washington to distribute and monitor food aid in North Korea — told VOA the first round of assistance 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 on malnutrition and other health problems in North Korea, has also welcomed the prospect of more aid.

He told VOA the U.S. aid from could complement UNICEF efforts under way 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.