04/24/2006, 00.00
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Pyongyang asks for more humanitarian aid

Each year, the North Korean government asks for more humanitarian aid from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington. Human rights activists say: "The population should be helped, but governments use human rights to gain political and military leverage ."

Seoul (AsiaNews/SCMP) – South Korea "is considering a request from North Korea for 300,000 tonnes of fertiliser", but Pyongyang's ulterior request for 500,000 tonnes of rice "has been shelved for now", said a Seoul government representative today, 24 April.

The appeal for delivery of humanitarian aid was presented by representatives of the regime during a four-day meeting between delegations of both Koreas in Pyongyang. The meeting is set to close today with the signing of a joint declaration.

South Korea regularly sends rice and fertiliser across the border dividing the peninsula: last year, it sent 350,000 tonnes of fertiliser and 500,000 tonnes of rice and this year, it has already sent 150,000 tonnes of fertiliser. The figure "is set to increase, as happens every year". From 1999 through early this year, South Korea sent nearly 2.15 million tonnes of fertiliser to the North, according to the Unification Ministry.

North Korea started to "accept" foreign aid to feed its 23 million inhabitants in the mid-nineties, when loss of aid from the Soviet Union and the collapse of its "self-sufficient" agricultural system led to famine killing around two million people.

Many human rights activists working for freedom in North Korea claim that "the population's rights and humanitarian aid are used as a political tool" in Japan as well as South Korea, but this was an "unnecessary evil if one wanted to help people at risk of starvation."

"We will work with anyone who wants to help the people, but we want to stress that aid is an issue used by Washington, Tokyo and Seoul to gain political and military leverage with the Communist regime," said Nam Sin-u, member of the North Korea Freedom coalition.

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