U.S. Calls for Transparency in N. Korean Food Aid Distribution

[imText1]WASHINGTON, March 4 (Yonhap) — The United States called Friday on North Korea to improve transparency in distributing outside food handouts, saying that no decision has been made yet on the level of Washington’s food aid to the impoverished communist country.

Last year, Washington decided on a 50,000-metric-ton of food donation to the North through the World Food Program (WFP).

Evans Revere, acting assistant secretary of state for east asian affairs, said his country would not link its food assistance decisions to political factors, including six-party talks aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, but that the decision is linked to outside monitoring of the distribution of food aid.

“We are concerned about a number of trends and developments in terms of transparency and in terms of monitoring,” Revere said in a congressional hearing. “The North Korean government has refused permission for an increasing number of requested WFP monitoring visits late last year.”
He also voiced concerns that the North’s refusal to issue visas to staff of nongovernmental organizations could imperil their ability to monitor aid distribution and continue to operate their own programs in North Korea.

The North, he said, denied the WFP access to 10 previously accessible counties in the isolated communist country, which resulted in the U.N. agency’s termination of food distribution in those areas.

The U.N. relief agencies have called on the North to allow freer and wider access to food distribution by international monitors, saying donors will be more generous in providing food if the communist country ensures more transparency.

North Korea currently has limited outside inspections of its distribution of aid, arousing speculation that it may be diverting some to its military. South Korean officials, however, are dismissive of such a possibility.

Of the 206 cities and counties in the North, 44 are still off-limits to international monitors, South Korean officials said.

Revere said the food situation in the North improved with an uptick in domestic food production but the Stalinist country is still short of food to feed its 23 million people.

The impoverished country has been relying on outside handouts since 1995 to help feed its people after its economy was devastated by years of mismanagement and natural disasters.

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