No food crisis in North Korea despite floods: paper

Wednesday, January 3, 2007; 1:40 AM

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has no serious trouble feeding its people despite heavy floods and sanctions by "enemy states" Japan and the United States, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper said on Wednesday, quoting an agricultural official of the North.

Even in a good year North Korea does not produce enough grain to feed its people.

But aid officials have said the secretive communist state is expected to face a severe shortage soon due to crop damage caused by the July floods and decreased food donations from abroad.

"It is not a satisfactory production level relative to our goal, but the problem of feeding the people is in no way at a serious level," Kim Kyong-il of the North's agricultural ministry was quoted in the Choson Sinbo newspaper as saying.

The paper is published by an association of North Korean residents in Japan with reports from Pyongyang, and is seen as carrying the official voice of the North.

"Because of economic sanctions by enemy countries like the United States and Japan, there have been problems in a series of plans to modernize farming," the newspaper said.

Neither the United States nor Japan has called for an end of food shipments to impoverished North Korea.

The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea -- aimed at curbing the North's weapons trade and imports of luxury goods for its leaders -- after it defied international warnings and conducted its first nuclear test in October.

In a joint new year editorial carried by state newspapers, the North acknowledged its farms face difficulties.

"We should, as in the past, keep up farming as the great foundation of the country and make an epoch-making advance in solving the problem of food for the people," the editorial said.

Much of the North's food shortfall has been made up with international aid in previous years, but South Korea -- one of the largest single donors of food -- suspended its food handouts last year.

Famine in North Korea during the 1990s brought about by years of floods, drought and mismanaged farm policy killed at least 1 million and as many as 2.5 million, according to some studies.

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