EU aid for N Korea `is given to soldiers'

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The Independent Online
AS NORTH KOREA celebrates its 50th birthday, an American congressional aide has claimed that shipments from Europe to relieve the food shortages in the country are being diverted to the armed forces.

Mark Kirk, who visited the secretive Stalinist state for 12 days last month with a bi- partisan congressional delegation, said he saw sacks of wheat marked as a donation from the European Union being loaded on army vehicles and transported to areas for which foreign aid had not been allocated. "The trucks were travelling from a province where the Europeans have a food distribution programme to one where they do not," he said in Washington.

Mr Kirk said he suspected food shipments from China also were going to the North Korean military although he saw or heard no evidence that United States shipments were being diverted in the same way.

The country marked the 50th anniversary of its foundation yesterday with a massive military parade, watched by the leader, Kim Jong Il. Columns of Korean People's Army units and military academy cadets goose-stepped before him, "vowing to become rifles and grenades to defend Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong Il", according to the official Pyongyang Radio.

Kim, 56, is chairman of its National Defence Commission, which is in charge of the 1.1 million-strong military, the world's fifth-largest armed force and the backbone of the Communist regime.

North Korean television footage carried by South Korean stations showed Kim standing solemnly on a platform and clapping as the crowd burst into a frenzy of cheers. He did not speak. Pyongyang's main plaza, named after Kim's late father, Kim Il Sung, was filled with red flags and placards vowing loyalty to the junior Kim.