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Friday, 17 April, 1998, 05:15 GMT 06:15 UK
Fear over North Korean food aid
Children left to forage as reports say aid is not getting through
The United Nations says it has been prevented from checking that food aid for famine-stricken North Korea is reaching the people most in need.

After suffering from a combination of droughts and floods, the communist country has been relying on outside aid since 1995 to feed its 24 million people.

mother and child
'Suffering is unseen by world'
But the UN food aid organisation, the World Food Programme, has issued an ultimatum to the leadership in Pyongyang, demanding that it allows international monitors to enter all counties in which food aid is being distributed.

"We said if we did not have access to the additional areas, we would then cut back the amount of resources that we were sending," said Catherine Bertini, executive director of WFP.

Her concern was also echoed in talks between North and South Korea taking place in China, which have stalled over demands that North Korea should make more political concessions to save its people from mass starvation.

Claims of a silent famine

Refugees who have escaped famine by fleeing over the border to China say that limited foreign access means that the world only sees a fraction of the suffering in North Korea.

Many refugees risk their lives by fleeing to China
They told BBC Beijing correspondent Carrie Gracie that the foreign food aid is feeding military and government officials, while ordinary people are left to starve.

One 26-year old refugee said: "In my home town there has been no distribution at all since 1994. Half the people in the town have either died or disappeared."

Meanwhile, other relief organisations have claimed that three million people starved to death since 1995.

A senior WFP official said that she could neither deny nor confirm these reports.

"I think we cannot afford to have another quiet famine hit us again this century," said Judy Cheng-Hopkins.

"But I would say that, when you interview a sample of self-selecting people who cross the border (to China) and then extrapolate them to the rest of the population to come up with a final figure, I don't know ... how sound that is."

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