Pyongyang begs for food around world: sources

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Pyongyang begs for food around world: sources

North Korea is going around the world begging for food, sources in Seoul told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

“Since the end of last year, North Korea has been asking the U.S., international organizations and almost every country it has diplomatic ties with, including nations in Europe and Southeast Asia, to assist it with food,” one of the sources said. “The request is being made indiscriminately and now it’s easier to count the countries not receiving food-aid requests from North Korea than the countries receiving them. The exception is in Africa, where the economic situation is bad.”

A government source backed the claim.

“North Korea is asking the U.S. and European Union countries for free food aid while asking developing countries in regions like Southeast Asia for food that it promises to pay back later,” the source said.

The government source added that the requests started in the second half of last year, but over the last two months they’ve become frantic. He also said that as far as he knew, no country has responded to the request.

The JoongAng Ilbo reported Tuesday, citing a Washington source, that North Korea officially requested U.S. food aid on Jan. 14 in New York when the North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Han Sang-ryol, met Robert King, the U.S. envoy on North Korea’s human rights. Some are speculating that King’s six-day visit to Seoul - which ends tomorrow - is related to the food request.

The North’s move comes amid reports that the food supply in the isolated country is in poor condition.

The Asahi Shimbun reported yesterday that North Korea has sent an army of traders to Chinese cities to facilitate trade in and out of the North. Around 1,000 North Koreans are in Beijing and 600 in Shanghai working for 300 trade companies controlled by Pyongyang or the North Korean military.

The paper said each trader is sending back home between $5,000 to $60,000 each year. That money is then used for imports, including food.

The paper also said North Korea eased export quotas for natural resources such as coal and silver late last year to pay for increased imports of food such as rice and corn.

Another South Korean government source said a current food shortage is probably not a driving factor behind the “food diplomacy.” He cited a United Nations World Food Program report that said North Korea’s food production increased at least 3 percent last year from the year before.

Instead, the source speculated North Korea may be stockpiling food ahead of 2012, which the country has publicly said will be the year it becomes a “strong and prosperous nation” on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials told their North Korean counterparts that if it wants food aid from the U.S., it will have to allow international monitors to see how it’s distributed, a diplomatic source said.

The source said the U.S. presented the condition when officials from USAID, the government body in charge of food and other overseas aid, met North Korean representatives at the United Nations in New York last month.

By Kang Chan-ho, Moon Gwang-lip []

Related Korean Article [중앙일보]

북한, 전 세계 상대 식량 구걸
아프리카 빼고 다 손 벌려 … “요청 안 한 나라 찾는 게 더 빨라”

북한이 전 세계를 상대로 전방위 식량 지원 요청에 나선 것으로 파악됐다. 외교 소식통은 9일 “북한은 지난해 말부터 아프리카 국가들을 제외하고 미국과 국교를 맺고 있는 유럽·동남아 국가, 국제기구 거의 모두에 식량을 지원해달라고 요청하고 있다”고 말했다. 소식통은 “북한이 식량을 요청하지 않은 나라나 기구가 어디인지를 찾는 게 훨씬 빠를 만큼 무차별적으로 식량 지원 요청에 나선 상태”라고 전했다.

정부 당국자도 “북한은 선진국인 미국과 유럽 국가들엔 무상으로, 동남아 등지의 개발도상국들엔 ‘나중에 갚을 테니 꿔달라’며 식량 지원을 요청 중”이라며 “이 같은 움직임은 최근 부쩍 심해졌다”고 밝혔다. 그는 “현재까지 북한의 식량 지원 요청에 응해준 나라나 기구는 없는 것으로 안다”며 “북한은 미국을 제외하곤 일본 등 미수교국엔 식량 지원을 공식적으로 요청하지 않았다”고 말했다.

정부 당국자는 “북한이 세계식량계획(WFP)에 보고한 바에 따르면 지난해 식량 생산량은 2009년(411만t 추정)보다 3%가량 증가했다”며 “북한이 WFP에 보고하는 수치는 실제보다 적을 가능성이 높으므로 진짜 생산량은 그보다 많을 것”이라고 말했다. 그런 만큼 정부는 북한이 식량이 부족해서라기보다는 ‘강성대국 진입의 해’로 설정한 내년에 맞춰 식량을 비축해두기 위해 전면적 외교에 나선 것으로 추정하고 있다고 이 당국자는 설명했다. …
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