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Shortfall in Food Aid Forces WFP to Curtail Assistance to N. Korea - 2003-12-20

The World Food Program says it may have to curtail food aid to North Korea as early as next month. Millions in the impoverished communist state could be affected.

The World Food Program says three million North Koreans could go hungry next month, because of a shortfall in donations of food. WFP Director James Morris told reporters in Beijing Saturday that his agency has received only 60 percent of the food donations it needs in order to feed its target of 6.5 million North Koreans for the year.

He appealed for more aid. But political tensions between Pyongyang and donor nations appear to be getting in the way of donations.

Mr. Morris said the program's main donors - the United States and Japan - have both dramatically reduced their contributions. He said U.S. donations have dropped by more than two-thirds from previous years, and Japan has not sent any food aid to North Korea via the WFP at all for the past two years.

Both nations are involved in negotiations to convince North Korea to stop its development of nuclear weapons.

The World Food Program says the delivery of aid has been complicated partly by North Korea's refusal to allow foreign monitors to check on food distribution. Donor nations have expressed fear that food is being diverted from common citizens to the military and the government elite.

North Korea has relied heavily on donated food since the mid-1990's, when the government said the country's farming industry had collapsed due to drought and the loss of subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Outsiders also cite years of mismanagement by the state as a major factor in the food shortages.

Efforts to move along negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program have continued in the meantime. Chinese state media say a U.S. diplomat met with senior Chinese officials Friday in Beijing to discuss preparations for a next round of multi-party talks. No date has been set for the negotiations, but China hopes to host them in early 2004.

Meanwhile, North Korea on Saturday said it would continue to develop its "nuclear deterrent force," criticizing the United States for going ahead with the development of low-yield nuclear weapons.