North Korea desperate for outside food aid

Facing ongoing international isolation and experiencing a wobbly power transfer from its ailing leader to his young son, North Korea is escalating efforts to secure food assistance for its starving people, philanthropic groups in and out of the country said Sunday (April 3).

The communist North, which relies mostly on outside aid to feed its impoverished population of 24 million, has been facing deepening food shortages in recent years especially after leaving the aid-for-denuclearization talks with regional powers in 2008.

While the reclusive state has been upping efforts to resume the talks, South Korea and the US, who are main members of the six-nation dialogue, have been demanding it first prove its willingness to disarm and apologise for attacking Seoul last year.

A North Korean official recently said many of its people will "starve to death" if they don't receive food aid soon, an official at a charity group in Seoul said.

"We often discuss food issues with the North, but they seem much more desperate recently," the unnamed official said, adding North Korea will be spending the "hardest spring ever" without outside donations.

Another report over the weekend said North Korea's parliamentary speaker appealed for food aid from Britain, emphasising "an acute food shortage" his country is currently suffering from.

Choe Tae-bok, chairman of Pyongyang's Supreme People's Assembly, made the comments while visiting London from March 28-31, US-funded Voice of America reported, quoting a British lawmaker.

The upcoming two months "would be the harshest time for North Koreans" in getting enough to eat, Choe was quoted as saying.

Among the European nations who are generally more open to providing aid to the North, which is often accused of giving food to the military instead of ordinary citizens, France donated $210,000 to its charity group Premier Urgence to feed the most vulnerable in the North, the American radio news network also reported.

The chief of the group was quoted as telling Voice of America that food items such as rice, sugar and milk powder will be sent to some 1,000 orphans and disabled people in North Korea for seven months before harvest.

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