North Korea weapons tests reduce food aid, U.N. says

  • World
  • Tuesday, 24 Oct 2006

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - North Korea's tests of unconventional weapons have contributed to a reduction of badly needed food aid, with international donors thinking twice about supplying goods, a U.N. envoy said on Monday. 

Viti Muntarbhorn, the U.N. human rights investigator for North Korea told a news conference that the number of people getting U.N. food aid had dropped to 13,000 from 6.5 million a year ago. But much of this decline was due to restrictions from Pyongyang, which denied access and monitoring. 

"The resources spent on arms would have been better spent satisfying the food security," he said. 

North Korea tested seven missiles in July and then announced an underground nuclear test on Oct. 9 after which the Security Council imposed sanctions but exempted humanitarian assistance. 

"The missile tests had a negative impact on the food situation of the country, since they caused various contributors of humanitarian aid to discontinue providing that aid, while the nuclear test caused further insecurity in the region and beyond," said Muntarbhorn, a Thai law professor. 

North Korea has still not recovered from famine in the 1990s that experts believe killed about 2.5 million people, or 10 percent of the population. Floods earlier this year started a new round of scarcities. 

A day after North Korea announced its nuclear test, the U.N. World Food Program warned that it could be forced to halt distributions as early as January without more donations. 

Donors had committed only 10 percent of the $102 million the WFP sought last June for North Korea, with only Ireland and Australia contributing. South Korea and China send humanitarian supplies separately to North Korea. 

Pyongyang last year ordered the WFP to change its emergency relief program to development assistance, barring it from most areas in distributing and monitoring that food went to the most vulnerable people. 

Muntarbhorn's report to the U.N. General Assembly last week emphasized that Pyongyang locks up handicapped people in camps with harsh and "subhuman conditions, categorizing them according to their physical disabilities. 

Defectors from North Korea have testified "without exception" about the existence of collective camps where the handicapped are assigned according to their physical deformity or disability, he wrote. 

Muntarbhorn, who was not allowed to visit the country, also said North Korea had to stop punishing returning refugees and that countries receiving them needed help. 

Conversely, he said that receiving nations should not push the North Koreans back over the border but allow the U.N. refugee agency to deal with them. China regularly deports refugees. 

(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert in Washington) 

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