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EU to dispatch food monitor agents in N.K.

The European Union will send 50 personnel fluent in Korean to North Korea soon to tighten the monitoring of the donated food there, a U.S.-funded radio station reported Wednesday.

The plan comes as the EU announced earlier this week it will send food aid worth 10 million euros, or $14.5 million, to North Korea to feed the starving people.

The first batch of food will be distributed in four of North Korea’s most impoverished northeastern provinces, Radio Free Asia said.

North Korea has agreed to let the EU personnel conduct the monitoring activities freely at some 400 hospitals, food supply centers, orphanages, markets and homes, the RFA quoted an official as saying.

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 been agreeing to let agents from the EU as well as the United Nations World Food Program come in for regular monitoring.

The EU is expected to send some 20,000 tons of rice, corn, beans and health food within two weeks.

Most of the donated food will be distributed by the WFP. Britain’s charity group Save the Children plans to separately pass out medicine, according to the U.S. media.

Earlier this year, the U.N.’s food agency had called on the international community to donate 434,000 tons of food to feed starving North Koreans.

Regardless of the softening international mood despite Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear ambitions and provocations, South Korea and the U.S. remain undecided over whether to resume full-scale food aid to the communist state. The two allies continue to suspect that the Kim regime may be stockpiling rice and question the accuracy of the assessment made based on Pyongyang’s own statistics.

Washington said it “understands” the EU’s decision to provide aid to the North, but stressed it will make its own decision on the issue.

“We understand their decision. We have not made our own decision,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing in Washington.

The EU’s recent decision came after a June trip by a team to assess the food situation there.

The U.S. sent a separate delegation to the North in late May to verify its claim that it is in urgent need of food, but has yet to make a decision on the issue.

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