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N.K. accepts Seoul’s video monitoring of aid distribution

North Korea has allowed Seoul to use video to monitor the distribution of food it donated, South Korea said Thursday, hinting at a possible expansion of food assistance to the northern rival.

The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a pro-unification civic coalition, recently submitted a video it recorded from Aug. 3-6 as North Korea distributed the flour Seoul sent to its people, the Unification Ministry here said.

It was the first such video to be submitted to the government by the charity group, which sent a total of 1,000 tons of flour to Pyongyang with government approval.

Seven monitors from the group visited Sariwon, a city south of the capital Pyongyang, earlier this month as the communist North granted rare access to a day care center and three other facilities, the group said, adding 300 tons of flour had reached children and other intended beneficiaries.

“Distribution went well as we have seen in the footage,” an official at the Unification Ministry, which oversees North Korea affairs, said. “We are watching to see if this monitoring settles in properly.”

The government has also asked local charity groups to submit detailed data on the recipients and the amount of rationing as part of food distribution monitoring, the official said.

The recent development may influence the South Korean government to ease up toward sending food aid to Pyongyang, analysts say.

The trip to the North by South Korean monitors was the first since November last year, when Seoul imposed a travel ban and completely cut off aid in return for Pyongyang’s bombardment of one of its islands.

As South Korea has been cautious about sending flour to Pyongyang due to its possible use as military provisions, North Korea’s de facto approval of monitoring could lead to more food aid.

North Korea, which has relied on outside assistance to feed its population of 24 million since the mid-1990s, has been increasing calls for international aid.

Based on its own assessment, the United Nations’ food agency had asked countries to donate 434,000 tons of food to North Korea in March, claiming food must be sent at least to women and children despite Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear ambitions.

International assistance to the North has since been increasing with many countries and the European Union providing emergency food aid to the impoverished state. International aid has nearly doubled up to July this year from the previous year, officials say.

Despite the growing pressure, South Korea has been reluctant to resume aid on the government level, suspecting the North’s Kim Jong-il regime of stockpiling military provisions with food assistance. The U.S. has not resumed aid to the North in full-scale either, saying it will not be sending assistance until transparency in the distribution system is fully guaranteed.

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

Apparently getting more desperate for outside assistance, the North had also let in monitors from the EU, U.N. and Washington recently.

By Shin Hae-in (