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U.N. to tighten monitoring of food distribution in N.K.

The World Food Program will increase its personnel residing in North Korea to tighten monitoring of the distribution of donated food, a U.S.-funded radio station reported Tuesday.

The plan comes as the U.N. agency prepares to launch an emergency operation to help feed 3.5 million starving North Koreans by providing 310,000 tons of food within the next year.

The WFP plans to keep 59 agents in the North, an increase from the previous 10. Up to 60 percent of these agents will be tasked with checking whether the food goes to ordinary people rather than the military in the impoverished state, according to the Voice of America.

Pyongyang’s reclusive Kim Jong-il regime has often refused to let outsiders monitor its food distribution process, triggering suspicions that most of the outside aid is being used to feed its army and political elite.

Apparently getting more desperate for outside assistance, the North has agreed to let the WFP agents monitor its food situations in some 400 regions every month, the U.N. body said.

South Korea and the U.S., which remain lukewarm toward resuming full-scale food aid to Pyongyang, suspect that the Kim regime may be stockpiling rice to prepare for potential war or to release on the 100th anniversary of its late founder Kim Il-sung next year.

While the WFP has been calling on the international community to donate 434,000 tons of food to feed starving North Koreans, the two traditional allies also question the accuracy of the assessment made based on Pyongyang’s own statistics on its harvest and rationing.

Among the newly dispatched agents, 12 can speak fluent Korean, the U.S. radio station said, quoting WFP officials.

A total of seven offices, including one in the capital Pyongyang, will open during the emergency operation period, with food being distributed in eight provinces and 109 districts in the North, it added.

In a recent statement, the WFP had stressed that the aid operation in the authoritarian single-party state “will include the highest standards of monitoring and control to ensure that food gets to where it is needed.”

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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