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N. Korea accepts food from South, says shortages could worsen

Starving children

New aid only enough to feed 3% of population

In this story:

July 25, 1997
Web posted at: 2:14 p.m. EDT (1814 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- North Korea, where untold numbers of people are starving, agreed Friday to accept new food shipments from the South.

Red Cross negotiators from the two countries, meeting at a Beijing hotel, needed just 10 minutes to reach the final agreement following lengthy talks Wednesday and Thursday. The North, which declined offers of food and clothing, said food shortages could worsen because of a drought that has hit key farming areas.

Pyongyang rejected Seoul's request to let donors specify who will get the new aid shipments -- $10 million worth of corn bought from China. It will feed 740,000 North Koreans, or about 3 percent of the population, between July and November, according an official with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Still more food sought

Separately, South Korea said on Friday it had completed loading 300 tons of powdered milk onto a ship for delivery to the North.

International aid agencies are also stepping up food appeals for the North, warning of imminent starvation, particularly among young children who are most at risk.

It's estimated that one-third of North Korean children under the age of 6 are malnourished.

South Korea already has sent 50,000 tons of grain under an agreement signed in May. The United States, Japan, China and other countries have donated several hundred thousand tons of food.

The United States this month nearly doubled its total food aid to North Korea to $52 million.

First floods, now drought


Two years of flooding and bad harvests, after years of agricultural mismanagement, have sent farming conditions in the North from bad to worse.

Now, a lack rain at the height of the growing season has affected hundreds of thousands of acres of crops in the communist country, said Choe Gyung Rin, secretary-general of the North Korean Red Cross.

Hard bargaining

The South rejected a request from the North for rice -- which can be stored longer than corn -- because of disagreement over monitoring procedures to assure the food would not be diverted to the military.


However, Pyongyang agreed to allow the IFRC to expand its monitoring operations beyond the 19 North Korean counties where it currently is allowed to function.

The South had pushed for a deal that would designate individual families for food relief and allow South Korean reporters to monitor deliveries. The North refused.

The latest negotiations, as with the round in May, were complicated by mutual distrust between the two Koreas, which fought a civil war from 1950-53 and share the world's most heavily fortified border.

Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel andReuters contributed to this report.

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