- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

Video footage smuggled out of North Korea shows food being sold from sacks with markings from international donors, and the State Department acknowledged that monitoring of U.S. donations to the communist state remains an unresolved issue.

Japanese and South Korean activists said the footage was secretly taken last month from black marketeers in Haesan, a North Korean town on the border with China.

It showed a marketplace where people were selling rice and other grains, which the activists said were provided by South Korea, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) and other relief organizations, an Associated Press report from Seoul quoted the activists as saying.

Some of the grain sacks bore stamps that read, “Rice from the Republic of Korea,” South Korea’s official name.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that he was not yet aware of the activists’ tape, but that the monitoring of U.S. donations, which are distributed by the WFP, is still an issue in future contributions by Washington.

In February, Washington announced a donation of 40,000 metric tons of food and said that it would contribute as much as 60,000 metric tons of additional aid before the end of the year if Washington’s distribution concerns were addressed.

“We have serious concerns about North Korea’s restrictions on monitoring and on access to its people that impair the World Food Program’s ability to ensure that our food assistance gets to those who need it,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in a statement at the time.

The authenticity of the video and the activists’ claim could not be independently verified.

But the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), which administers much of foreign aid to the North, expressed doubt that the food in question could have come from its shipments.

“The situation there is so dire that the likelihood of widespread selling of rations is very small,” said Trevor Rowe, spokesman for the WFP in New York.

“There are no surpluses — people are so close to the bone and there is not much disposable food,” he said.

It also difficult to imagine North Korean government involvement in reselling WFP aid, because the aid is directly distributed to its beneficiaries, said Mr. Rowe, who had not seen the tape or reports about it.

He noted, however, that it is not uncommon for some people in North Korea to trade in part of their food for soap, cooking oil or other daily necessities.

It was not clear if the food on sale contained any donations from the United States, which has contributed more food to North Korea than any other country — more than $600 million since 1995.

In Seoul yesterday, Lee Young-hwa, head of Rescue the North Korean People, said the new video confirmed a long-standing suspicion that the North Korean police and military were selling aid to fill their pockets.

“The aid has not been used for those who really need it. The aid is helping a regime of terror and dictatorship become stronger,” said Mr. Lee, whose group is based in Japan.

In a statement, the Seoul-based Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights urged the international aid donors to “establish the transparency of the distributing process” in North Korea.

The communist state has depended on outside aid to feed its 22 million people since flood, drought and other bad weather devastated its already inefficient economy in the mid-1990s.

Pyongyang says at least 200,000 people died of famine between 1995 and 1998.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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