August 17, 2006

CORRECTED: UN food agency says N.Korea accepts aid offer

Corrects item in fifth paragraph to "vegetable oil" from

By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea is likely to reverse position
and accept aid from the World Food Program after flooding last
month hit already short food supplies, an official with the
U.N. aid agency said on Thursday.

Reclusive North Korea initially rebuffed offers of help
after three major storms hit in July. A pro-Pyongyang paper in
Japan reported that floods had left at least 549 people dead
and 295 missing and washed away buildings, roads and railways.

"We expect to be moving food very soon to one of the
affected areas," said Gerald Bourke, a WFP spokesman based in

Experts said the flood damage to the key rice crop and
other staples could push the country into famine.

The WFP aims to distribute 150 tonnes of wheat, flour and
vegetable oil as soon as it can, Bourke said.

At the end of 2005, North Korea said it no longer wanted
handouts from international agencies, leading the WFP to
suspend operations there aimed at providing food for 6.5
million people. It returned this year.

The WFP places conditions on aid, saying it must conduct
field inspections before putting together a package and monitor
that the food goes to those who need it most.

North Korea turned down previous offers of help from the
WFP and South Korea's Red Cross, saying it could manage on its

But in Seoul, a government official said the Red Cross
societies of the two Koreas would meet on Saturday to discuss
food and reconstruction aid.

The South Korean Red Cross said last week it could provide
as much as 100,000 tonnes of rice in a one-off aid package. The
Seoul government offered another 10 billion won ($10.4 million)
for a separate package of household goods and medicine.

South Korea, a major supplier of aid to its neighbor,
suspended regular food assistance after the North test-fired
seven missiles on July 5 in defiance of world opinion.

Famine in North Korea during the 1990s, brought about by
years of floods, drought and mismanaged farm policy, killed at
least 1 million people. The WFP said some studies indicated as
many as 2.5 million, some 10 percent of the population,

Even in a good year, North Korea falls about 1 million
tonnes short of the food it needs to feed its people. South
Korea provided 500,000 tonnes of rice last year.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim)