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Last Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
North Korea to accept UN food aid
North Korean farmers work at their rice paddies (file photo)
The flooding has wiped out tracts of agricultural land
The UN food agency says North Korea has agreed to accept emergency food aid in the wake of heavy flooding in July.

The decision is a reversal for Pyongyang, which said previously that it did not need international help and could manage by itself.

North Korea was hit by torrential rains and high winds last month.

Official media said the severe weather killed hundreds of people and left thousands homeless, as well as damaging large tracts of agricultural land.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement that it would supply 150 metric tons of food to feed 13,000 residents in South Phyongan province, 80km (50 miles) east of the capital.

North Korea also agreed on Thursday to send its Red Cross officials to meet counterparts in South Korea on Saturday to discuss food and reconstruction aid.

Secretive

The moves come amid differing reports on the scale of the flood damage in the North.

North Korean news agency KCNA said that "hundreds" died, while a pro-Pyongyang Japan-based daily put the toll at 549.

One activist group in Seoul has suggested the number of casualties is well into the thousands, but aid officials have played this down.

North Korea is secretive about releasing details of accidents or natural disasters, making any confirmation of the extent of the flooding difficult.

But Pyongyang has cancelled a mass gymnastics display, called Arirang, which is a key source of income for the nation, to focus, it says, on recovering from the floods.

North Korea is already reliant on foreign donations to feed its people.

The WFP began working in the country in the mid 1990s, after about two million people died from famine.


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