Saturday, March 24, 2007

North Korea: Show us the money

Despite signing a breakthrough agreement last month, on Thursday the North Koreans went home.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said today another six party session would be arranged “as soon as we get their bank transfer done.”

The U.S. had agreed that $25m held at a bank in Macau, Banco Delta Asia, would be transferred to a North Korean account. The funds had been frozen in 2005 because of American accusations that they were linked to illicit dealings. Now, the Americans said, North Korea had agreed to use them for humanitarian and educational purposes.

But said Christopher Hill, America’s man at the talks, “If something can go wrong, it often does go wrong.” And the money from Banco Delta Asia had yet to be credited to North Korea’s account. Chinese and American officials tried to persuade North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il that this was merely a bureaucratic hitch and that he should get on with discussions about the nuclear problem. But Mr Kim refused to join the six-party talks until the money arrived.

North Korea has toughed out hard times before. Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) in Pyongyang, says that “food crises” could emerge in parts of the country this year. However, he says the country is still “pretty far away” from the famine of the mid-1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

[Excerpts of AP and Economist articles]

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