U. N. food agency dismisses possibility of diverting food aid to North Korea

The U.N. food agency on Friday dismissed the possibility of its aid to North Korea being diverted to the military, which already receives what it needs from domestic supplies under the country's military-first policy.

"North Korea produces more than enough food to feed its military ... they can get first priority on national production,"Tony Banbury, Asia regional director of the World Food Program, told reporters.

He described what's donated to North Korea as "baby food" which isn't fit for consumption by North Korean soldiers because it is tailored specifically for infants, pregnant and nursing women, the most vulnerable people in the North.

His remarks came amid U.S. concerns about the ability to monitor whether or not humanitarian food aid reaches those who are most in need.

The U.S. State Department said Thursday that Washington might contribute to the WFP project to North Korea if its investigators confirm the food will go to the intended beneficiaries in North Korea.

On Wednesday, North Korea agreed to allow the U.N. agency to resume food shipments to 1.9 million North Koreans, down sharply from the 6.5 million people the agency was feeding in past years. The WFP suspended aid in December after the North asked it to switch focus to economic development, claiming its food supplies were adequate.

The Rome-based agency has 10 international staff based in Pyongyang who are responsible for monitoring food aid and said it will apply a 'no access, no food' policy toward the impoverished communist country.

In the past, the WFP had up to 48 foreigners in the North and five regional offices in addition to the capital. The geographic scope of the WFP program was reduced from 163 counties to 30, according to the agency, reports the AP.

I.L.