EU officials to visit North Korea on food aid: Report

The US is likely to reach a decision on resuming food aid to North Korea.

Seoul: A group of European Union officials will visit North Korea next month to assess the food situation in the impoverished communist state after a similar trip by US officials, according to a report.

Officials from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) group will head to Pyongyang after the US team wraps up a probe into the North`s food needs this week, Yonhap news agency said, citing a Seoul government source.

"The international community for now is evaluating the North`s food conditions and is not discussing in earnest resumption of food aid yet," Yonhap quoted the official as saying.

The US delegation, led by Robert King, Washington`s special envoy on the North`s human rights, arrived in Pyongyang last Tuesday.

King left the North on Saturday after securing a release of a Korean American detained there for months, but several officials will stay until June 02 to tour the hermit state and investigate its food needs.

Washington is likely to reach a decision on resuming food aid to Pyongyang after the European officials finish their own two-week tour, said the source quoted by Yonhap.

The North, where hundreds of thousands died in a famine in the 1990s, suffers chronic food shortages and has partly relied on aid from overseas.

Pyongyang early this year pleaded to its historic enemy the United States and other countries for food after an exceptionally harsh winter hit crop yields.

UN agencies who visited in February said six million people -- a quarter of the population -- needed urgent aid.

But some Seoul officials are sceptical about the need, suspecting the regime wants to stockpile supplies for state handouts to mark the 100th anniversary next year of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung.

The South halted its own annual shipments of 400,000 tonnes of rice to its neighbour in 2008 as relations worsened.

The United States pledged 500,000 tonnes of rice in 2008. Shipments stopped the following year amid questions over transparency of the distribution, and Pyongyang told the Americans to leave.

Bureau Report

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