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N. Korea asked Western diplomat for rice assistance: source

   North Korea has recently asked a visiting Western diplomat for rice assistance, a South Korean government source said Wednesday.

   The diplomat, from one of the European Union member countries, visited the communist nation in mid-February and was surprised when North Korean officials requested food aid, the source said.

   "I did not hear of anyone who had died of starvation," the diplomat, however, was quoted as saying by the source who declined to have neither his name nor the diplomat's name specified in the media.

   The diplomat's country has diplomatic relations with the North, the source added.

   North Korea has reportedly widened its global outreach efforts for food assistance. The country almost always suffers shortfalls in food supplies due to a series of misguided economic policies.

   In the mid-1990s, an estimated 2 million people died from starvation, prompting the regime to seek handouts from the international community. But following two nuclear tests, much of the aid has dried up, forcing many North Koreans to defect. (Yonhap News)

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