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US Suspends Food Assistance to North Korea


People work in a field outside of Kaesong, North Korea, April 17, 2011. North Korea's perennial food shortage reached a crisis point in 2011, aid workers say, because of torrential rains, the coldest winter in 60 years and rising food prices.

People work in a field outside of Kaesong, North Korea, April 17, 2011. North Korea's perennial food shortage reached a crisis point in 2011, aid workers say, because of torrential rains, the coldest winter in 60 years and rising food prices.

The United States says it has suspended a food aid package to North Korea in response to Pyongyang's plans to carry out a missile launch next month. While the North says its plan to hurl the satellite into space is peaceful, the U.S. and other countries say the launch could help it further its ballistic missile technology.

Peter Lavoy, the acting assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, told a congressional hearing the U.S. is working together with allies in the region to try and discourage the North from going ahead with the launch because it would violate Pyongyang's international commitments. He says that failure of North Korea to follow through on what it has promised raises concerns about the nutritional assistance the U.S. has offered as well.

"We have been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea largely because we have now no confidence that the monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the food assistance goes to the starving people and not the regime elite," Lavoy said.

Late last month, North Korea announced it would temporarily suspend nuclear tests, long-range ballistic missile launches and other nuclear activities. In return, Washington, pledged to provide the North with 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance.

The aid package was expected to target the most needy in North Korea - including malnourished young children and pregnant women.

U.S. food aid to the North had been suspended since Pyongyang expelled U.S. food monitors in 2009 after U.S. officials voiced concerns about food distribution.

For now, Pyongyang is resisting calls to cancel the launch, and Lavoy says that violates last month's deal.

"When we recently reached this deal, this did prohibit North Korean missile launches, and we indicated at the time that a satellite missile launch we would interpret as a missile launch because it would use missile technology," Lavoy said,

In addition to the military applications of the launch, there are other concerns as well, Lavoy adds.

"The North Koreans have indicated that they will launch the missile in a southward direction. And I don't know if we have any confidence on the stability of the missile or where the actual impact will be. A number of countries are potentially affected. This could fall on, the debris could fall on their countries. It could cause casualties," Lavoy said.

The U.S. and South Korea say North Korea's two previous launches failed to put satellites into orbit, but Pyongyang insists it succeeded with its last launch in 2009.

Speaking through its state media on Wednesday, North Korea says the satellite launch is intended to estimate crop production and analyze the country's natural resources.

The official KCNA report also quotes an unnamed space program official as saying the North would show the peaceful nature of the satellite by inviting experts and journalists to witness its launch.

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