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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 09:00 GMT
Food aid arrives in N Korea
North Korean dock workers loading sacks of donated wheat onto a truck at Nampo port
The wheat will help feed the country's most vulnerable
The first big shipment of food aid in several months has arrived in North Korea, allowing the UN to temporarily resume distributions to more than two million people.

A spokesman for the UN's World Food Programme said about 39,500 tonnes of wheat was being unloaded at Nampo on North Korea's west coast and another 8,000 tonnes had arrived in Hungnam in the east.

The food, worth 9.5m euros ($10m), was provided by the European Union.

"With this shipment it will mean we can resume distributions to most, if not all, of all of those we cut off," WFP spokesman Gerald Bourke told BBC News Online.

At the end of last year, the WFP was forced to halt cereal distributions to three million hungry women, children and elderly people because of a marked downturn in donations.

Since then, donor countries have increased their pledges. In February, the US promised 40,000 tonnes of food, and an extra 60,000 tonnes if North Korea's improved the WFP's ability to monitor the distributions.

While donor countries have stressed that humanitarian aid is not affected by the political situation in North Korea, analysts said some governments do make a link.

North Korea's relationship with the world has been fraught since last October, when the US said that Pyongyang had admitted to a secret nuclear weapons programme.

Since then a stand-off has developed between Washington and Pyongyang.

On Monday, North Korea repeated its desire for direct talks with the US, while the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, said on Sunday that Washington remains committed to finding a multilateral diplomatic solution.

Mr Cheney said he would travel to Asia next month for talks with North Korea's neighbours on the issue.

The region is keeping a close eye on nuclear activity in North Korea, following Pyongyang's announcement that it had restarted a nuclear facility which is capable of weapons development.

16 Oct: US says N Korea admits to a secret nuclear programme
14 Nov: US halts oil shipments to N Korea
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon nuclear plant
31 Dec: UN nuclear inspectors forced to leave
10 Jan: N Korea pulls out of anti-nuclear treaty
12 Feb: IAEA refers issue to UN Security Council
27 Feb: US says Yongbyon reactor restarted
March 2: N Korean jets intercept US surveillance plane in international airspace
10 March: N Korea fires second missile into sea

Of more concern would be the reactivation of a fuel reprocessing plant, which could allow North Korea to speed up any nuclear weapons production.

But a South Korean presidential adviser said on Monday that there no signs that this plant had yet been restarted.

"North Korea is not showing any movement to reactivate its nuclear reprocessing lab and test-fire a ballistic missile," said Ra Jong-il, senior security adviser to President Roh Moo-hyun.

Pyongyang has fired two missiles into the sea between North Korea and Japan in the last three weeks, although neither were ballistic.

Analysts believe impoverished North Korea is using its nuclear programme to pressure the international community into providing it with more humanitarian assistance.

Mr Bourke said the WFP still needs more aid pledges to North Korea cover its shortfall for this year of 32,500 tonnes of food until June, and another 245,000 tonnes for the second half of this year.

On Tuesday, Maurice Strong, an envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will arrive in North Korea for talks on humanitarian assistance.

Mr Strong is due to meet high-level officials, including Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun.

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