North Korea inquires 150.000 tons of fertilizer from South

Impoverished North Korea has requested 150,000 tons of fertilizer from the South, a South Korean official said Thursday, just months after the communist nation demanded that the U.N. World Food Program halt emergency aid shipments.

The North requested last week that the fertilizer start to be delivered by month's end in time for spring, and the South Korean government "plans to determine its position after reviewing various situations, taking necessary procedures," Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo told reporters.

South Korea has periodically sent the impoverished North rice and fertilizer. Last year, South Korea sent 500,000 tons of rice and 350,000 tons of fertilizer. From 1999 through 2005, South Korea sent nearly 2 million tons of fertilizer to the North, Rhee said.

The appeal for aid comes after the North said its food situation had improved and demanded an end to international emergency aid, instead requesting long-term development assistance. In December, the WFP shut down its programs that had been feeding some 6 million North Koreans, also halting the intensive monitoring that was requested by international donors to ensure the food reached those in need.

Distribution of South Korean food aid made directly to the North Korean government rather than through international aid groups comes with less stringent monitoring requirements, raising concern that it might be diverted to the communist regime's military or elite.

However, the South Korean government insists its donations are delivered to ordinary citizens.

South Korea 's fertilizer aid "has greatly helped North Korea enhance its agricultural productivity and improve its food situation," Rhee said Thursday.

North Korea has relied on foreign handouts to feed its 23 million people since disclosing in the mid-1990s that state-run farms collapsed after the loss of Soviet assistance and decades of mismanagement. Famine is believed to have killed 2 million people.

The North's appeal also comes amid deadlocked international efforts on ending its nuclear ambitions.

The talks also involving South Korea , China , Japan and Russia were last held in November, and have made no progress on implementing a breakthrough agreement in September where the North pledged to abandon its nuclear programs for aid and security assurances, reports the AP.

D.M.