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N. Korea's parliamentary speaker asks Britain to send food aid: report

North Korea's parliamentary speaker asked Britain to send food aid to his country in the midst of a deepening food shortage, saying the upcoming two months would be the most difficult, a report said Saturday.

Choe Tae-bok, chairman of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, visited Britain between March 28 and 31 on an invitation from the British-North Korea All-Party Parliamentary Group.

David Alton, a British lawmaker, said in an interview with the Voice of America that in a meeting with senior officials there, Choe had requested food aid as North Korea is suffering from food shortages, hit by the most severe cold snap in 60 years and a decline in harvests.

Choe was quoted as saying by Alton that the upcoming two months for North Korea would be the most serious.

North Korea has suffered from a chronic shortage of food and energy due to years of isolation, mismanagement and natural disasters. The communist state has relied on international handouts since 1995 to help feed its more than 20 million people. 

South Korea has suspended food aid to the North since the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak came to power in 2008 and linked denuclearization efforts by Pyongyang as preconditions to resume cross-border exchanges.

Inter-Korean relations have suffered due to a series of provocations by North Korea, including the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March 2010 and its shelling of a front-line island in November.

By taking into account calls that at least civilian aid should be allowed, the Seoul government on Thursday approved the first civilian humanitarian assistance to the communist country since November.

The United Nations called for more than 430,000 tons of food aid to support the most vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women in North Korea.

Alton said he doesn't agree with the Korean government's stance on food assistance to the North, adding that given about 6 million North Koreans are facing an acute food crisis, there is an urgent need to address Pyongyang's food shortages. (Yonhap News) 

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