The secretive Stalinist state announced in August that from the end of 2005 it would no longer require food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP) and other international humanitarian agencies, asking for development assistance instead.

 

The United States said on Thursday that it had been forced to suspend food aid to North Korea because of Pyongyang's decision to stop UN distribution of international food assistance.

 

South Korean government officials say Pyongyang apparently wants to build the foundation of its agriculture through long-term investment rather than stop-gap emergency aid.

 

Analysts said the proportion of WFP aid in relation to assistance from South Korea and China had also diminished enough to give North Korea room to reject supplies direct from the United Nations.

 

South Korea has provided the North with 500,000 tonnes of rice and 350,000 tonnes of fertiliser this year.

 

Funding shortfalls

 

The WFP's North Korea operation has suffered funding shortfalls for the past four years, the programme said on its website.

 

It secured only 270,000 of the 500,000 tonnes of food needed for 2005.

 

S Korea has sent 350,000 tonnes
of fertiliser to the North

Professor Kim Young-Soo of Sogang University, an expert on North Korea, said on Saturday North Korea had apparently found it necessary to put brakes on the WFP and the US demanding greater access to food distribution.

 

"North Korea is still suffering from food shortages. This is a tactic for Pyongyang to cope with the mounting demand for transparency in food distribution," Kim said. 

 

He noted that the North had been forced to allow WFP workers greater access to the isolated country, contrary to its policy of keeping its 23 million people shielded from outside influence.

 

Kim said: "It will become apparent in the next several months that North Korea will need emergency food aid again.

 

"WFP and other international aid organisations will then have to compromise with Pyongyang over the issue of distribution monitoring."

 

Government confident

 

WFP officials have said they still believe the country faces food shortages, but the government appears confident that better harvests in recent years and aid from China and South Korea will be sufficient.

 

"It will become apparent in the next several months that North Korea will need emergency food aid again"

Professor Kim Young-Soo,
Sogang University

North Korea and the WFP are negotiating conditions for the UN relief agency to remain with a smaller staff to oversee development assistance.

 

The WFP has also said it will continue helping North Korea despite Pyongyang's decision to stop receiving its food aid.

 

Richard Ragan, WFPs country director for North Korea, said the transition from emergency assistance to the promotion of longer-term food security was "an important feature of our operation and will be accelerated".

 

He said the shift to development-oriented assistance from emergency relief was under way.