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September 24, 2004

North Korea Asking for More Foreign Aid

From: Kansas City Star, United States - Sep 24, 2004

Associated Press

BEIJING - Long dependent on foreign food aid, North Korea is now asking for more help to revive its shattered economy, ranging from assistance in training workers to teachers for deaf children, an aid official said Friday.

North Korean officials made the request at a meeting last week with U.N. officials and private aid groups, said Kathi Zellweger of the Roman Catholic charity Caritas.

The government "still is welcoming humanitarian aid, too, but in addition they would also like to receive technical assistance and development cooperation," said Zellweger, who returned Thursday.

The North wants help to rebuild infrastructure, train workers and develop its economy, as well as such things as teachers for deaf children, Zellweger said.

The appeal comes as China tries to arrange a third round of six-nation talks on Washington's demand for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions. The talks also include South Korea, Japan and Russia.

Despite the nuclear tensions, the United States and South Korea have been among the North's biggest food donors.

The North's isolated Stalinist dictatorship began modest economic reforms in 2002, allowing small free markets for farmers to sell rice and other food items. But most of the population still depends on government rations to survive.

North Korea has depended on foreign aid to feed its people since disclosing in the mid-1990s that its state farming system had collapsed following decades of mismanagement and the loss of Soviet subsidies.

In addition to farming, the government is struggling to revive health and education systems.

Zellweger said that during her most recent trip, she was given an unusual chance to visit a school for deaf children that would be a target of future aid.

For nearly a decade, the North "has been receiving vast amounts of food aid," she said. "And by now the government has realised that food aid is not a healthy way of moving forward."

© 2004 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.