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Food shortages focus of North Korea visit: Carter

25 april 2011, 14:57
A group of former statesmen led by ex-US president Jimmy Carter said Monday they will focus on food shortages, human rights and denuclearisation when they visit North Korea this week, AFP reports.

A delegation of "The Elders" group of retired state leaders will visit Pyongyang on Tuesday in an effort to seek ways to ease tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapon programmes, they told a news conference in Beijing.

The four-member group, led by Carter, includes former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, ex-Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and former Irish president Mary Robinson.

Besides discussing ways in which to push forward multi-nation talks on the denuclearisation of North Korea, Carter said he would be looking at ways to ease sanctions on Pyongyang that have exacerbated a serious food crisis.

"It is a horrible situation there and we hope to induce other countries to help alleviate (the food crisis), including South Korea, which has cut off all supplies of food materials to North Koreans," Carter told journalists.

"When there are sanctions against an entire people, the people suffer the most and the leaders suffer the least."

Robinson said one-third of North Korea's children had suffered stunted growth due to a lack of food, while up to 3.5 million people were vulnerable to the widening crisis that saw average food rations cut in half this year to 700 calories a day per person.

"It is very, very important to ensure that the women, children and the elderly do not suffer because of a political situation," Robinson said. "We will very much be emphasising this."

"We really feel that the humanitarian and human rights issues are also very important."

United Nations food agencies that recently visited the North say more than six million people -- a quarter of the population -- urgently need food aid.

Carter said the delegation hopes to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, but so far such a meeting has not been announced. The trip was arranged at the invitation of North Korea.

The delegation was to meet with China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other Chinese experts on North Korea later Monday. The group, which will issue a report on their findings, will fly to Seoul Thursday.

Six-party disarmament talks between the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia have been at a standstill since Pyongyang walked out in April 2008 and staged its second nuclear test a month later.

Cross-border tensions were heightened when North Korea bombarded a border island in November, killing four South Koreans including two civilians and sparking fears of war.

The first attack on civilians since the 1950-53 Korean War came weeks after Pyongyang disclosed an apparently operational uranium enrichment plant to visiting US experts.

The North claimed it was a peaceful energy project but experts said it could be reconfigured to produce weapons-grade uranium.

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