Monday, May 12, 2008

Emergency food aid for North Korea

The head of the US State Department's Korea desk and four other US officials recently crossed the line from North to South Korea at the truce village of Panmunjom at the weekend lugging 18,000 documents the North Koreans gave them on their nuclear program.

Daily logs may provide clues on how much plutonium North Korean technicians have managed to reprocess at the nuclear complex at Yongbyon or nuclear warheads. Despite the volume of papers handed over to the Americans, however, no way do analysts believe North Korea is about to give up its deepest nuclear secrets.

North Korea needs to appear cooperative while writhing in mounting economic problems that approach the years of suffering during the late 1990s. It is not clear if the US team in Pyongyang came to terms on a deal for emergency food aid, but North Koreans crossing the Tumen River border into China testify to the urgency of the food crisis.

"The situation is extremely dire right now," said Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, providing sustenance for North Korean refugees. "People are comparing it to 1994 and 1995. The poor harvest and poor weather are the worst in 13 to 14 years." An influx of aid from the US and South Korea, on top of aid the North receives from China, "could be a big help", Peters said, "but my question is, how far will it filter down to the little people?"

[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, Asia Times]

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