The international community should not punish North Korea for its claimed nuclear test by suspending emergency food aid, a leading human rights group said Wednesday.
Separately, South Korea has delayed a shipment of emergency aid to North Korea following the nation's nuclear test, but has not yet decided to halt all relief deliveries, a government official said Wednesday. However, private groups went ahead with aid deliveries.
The world "must distinguish between the government and ordinary citizens," Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement from London. "Further restraints on food aid will only make ordinary people in North Korea suffer more."
Food shortages have beset North Korea since the 1990s following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, its main aid provider, and fallout from natural disasters such as floods and outdated farming methods.
Human Rights Watch also said there are signs the country is facing another food crisis. North Korea also suffered flooding after heavy rains in July, causing massive crop damage.
"The North Korea's nuclear weapons program can have devastating security implications in the region, but suspending food aid could be lethal for ordinary people in North Korea," Richardson said.
South Korea had planned to send 4,000 tons of cement to North Korea on Tuesday as part of an emergency aid package it pledged after North Korea suffered the heavy floods in mid-July.
That aid shipment never departed on Tuesday, a Unification Ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. However, he said there has been no decision yet on whether to halt all deliveries.
However, South Korea's YMCA said it shipped 2,000 bicycles to North Korea Wednesday worth US$209,000, the second shipment since last year. The group plans to ship 6,000 more bikes in the next three years.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said other civic groups also sent two ambulances, blankets and construction equipment.
Seoul suspended regular government humanitarian aid in July after North Korea launched a series of missiles against international objections. But South Korea agreed to send emergency aid to cope with the floods.
The disaster is believed to have caused losses of up to 100,000 tons of North Korea's normal annual production of 4 million tons of food, according to the World Food Program.
The UN food agency said last month that it would run out of food supplies for North Korea in two months due to a lack of donations for its operations there.
(China Daily October 12, 2006)