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Famine threat in N Korea

ROME (Reuters) - The UN World Food Programme said yesterday that it was looking into a warning by famine-hit North Korea that it could run out of grain within two weeks.

A spokesman for the Rome-based aid agency said WFP had shipments of 98,000 tonnes of grain from January to March for the 4.7 million people it has targeted. However, that leaves another 19 million North Koreans who could go hungry if Pyongyang's warning is true.

The official Korean Central News Agency earlier said that grain rations were cut in January and February but this had not stopped a drain on supplies. North Korea has been hit in the past two years by floods and droughts which have devastated the countryside, leading to reports of widespread deaths from starvation and large-scale emergency food relief from overseas.

A spokesman for North Korea's Flood Damage Rehabilitation Committee said that at the start of the year, North Korea's total stock of grain was 167,000 tonnes for its 22 million people. "With this stock, 300 grams were distributed to each person on a daily average in January and 200 grams in February. Even if 100 grams are distributed in March, the stock will run out in mid-March."