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Tuesday, September 1, 1998 Published at 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Japan suspends food aid to North Korea

A Japanese patrol boat in the Pacific searching for debris from North Korea's missile

Juliet Hindell, reporting from Tokyo: "Condemnation is once again raining down on Pyongyang"
Japan says it is stopping food aid to North Korea following its launch of a medium-range missile.

The missile flew over Japan's main island before landing in the Pacific on Monday.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi, also announced that normalisation talks with North Korea would be broken off.

He had earlier expressed deep concern about the incident.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said Japan would "put off providing food and other assistance for the time being".

[ image: The suffering in North Korea has been largely unseen]
The suffering in North Korea has been largely unseen
The failure of North Korea's centrally-planned economy combined with natural disasters has now left it heavily dependent on outside aid.

A research team from the US Congress has estimated that at least 300,000 people have died from famine in North Korea in each of the past three years.

Some aid agencies have estimated millions have died as a result of food shortages.

More severe relations

In a statement, the Japanese Government said it would "review its policy towards North Korea and take a resolute and stern stance."

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said: "Our relations with North Korea are going to be more severe than they have ever been."

No assistance had actually been announced for North Korea and talks had already been broken off by Pyongyang.

Japanese officials also announced the government was proposing to hold talks with South Korea and the United States as soon as possible to discuss further measures against the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang.

The South Korean Government has described the launch as a reckless act which posed a direct threat to the South.

Both Russia and the United States have also expressed concern.

China, which has provided food aid to North Korea, has called for the situation to be resolved through dialogue.

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