EU draws criticism over £9m food aid for North Korea

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The European Commission said yesterday that it would give £9m of food aid to North Korea, in the face of South Korean opposition and US doubts about the validity of the North's pleas for help.

The impoverished North has reached out to dozens of countries and organisations around the world for aid, complaining that bad weather, rising global food prices and the termination of aid from its principle donors, South Korea and the US, had slashed supplies.

The Commission said it was convinced that the North's pleas for help were genuine after a team of experts reported in June seeing severely malnourished children in hospitals and nurseries where no treatment was available.

"The purpose of this aid package is to save the lives of at least 650,000 people who could otherwise die from lack of food," the EU's Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, said in a statement.

But critics say the secretive North has siphoned off food aid in the past to feed its million-strong army, and South Korea says the North's food stocks are at more or less the same levels as they were last year.

The EU's decision comes as Washington also weighs resuming food aid to the North, after suspending its shipments in 2008 in a row over nuclear monitoring.

Analysts said any resumption of US aid would annoy Seoul, which opposes sending food to its neighbour. Last Thursday, the United States said it was still assessing the results of its own trip to North Korea in May.

Daniel Pinkston, an expert on Korean affairs with the International Crisis Group in Seoul, said: "We had been waiting to see who was going to move first on this. My sense is that there are so many other issues on the agenda in Washington ... and I think there's not much political will to provide aid and assistance. "I don't see the Americans having a sudden change of heart, or that they will open the flood gates to food because the Europeans decided to."