May 25, 2011 07:52
A U.S. delegation is in North Korea this week to assess the need for food in the impoverished country and discuss human rights.
The delegation, led by Robert King, the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, arrived in Pyongyang Tuesday. The five-member group will assess whether the United States should resume food aid shipments to the country. The State Department says King will also raise "appropriate human rights issues."
North Korea's official news agency, KCNA, said the delegation arrived to consult on humanitarian issues. The five-day visit by the American delegation is the first to the reclusive communist country by any U.S. officials in 17 months.
The United Nations said Tuesday it would soon decide whether to release emergency humanitarian funds for North Korea. UN humanitarian chief Valery Amos said at a news conference in New York that she will make a decision based on the World Food Program's assessment.
Some officials in South Korea have said the North is exaggerating its needs so it can stockpile food for next year's 100th anniversary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-sung. But humanitarian groups that have visited North Korea this year attest that the food shortage is dire.
Daniel Pinkston, Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, says it is certain that North Korea cannot feed its 23 million people. He said the debate now is on the severity of the problem.
North Korea has relied on international food assistance since a famine in the mid-1990s. But South Korea cut off unconditional aid because of deteriorating relations in early 2008. The United States halted food shipments after aid monitors were expelled in 2009.
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