North Korea to Reinstate Food Aid Requests

North Korea will formally ask the U.N. World Food Program for aid for children and pregnant women, several months after the communist nation demanded a halt to emergency food help, an agency spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The request will be made at a Thursday meeting at the agency's Rome headquarters, spokeswoman Anthea Webb said.

Last year, North Korea demanded that international aid groups stop sending emergency humanitarian assistance such as food by the end of 2005, and Webb said the U.N. agency complied with that request.

North Korea asked that the emergency aid be converted to long-term development assistance. Webb said North Korea will treat the food to be requested Thursday as development aid.

If the request is granted, 1.9 million children and pregnant women will receive vitamin-enriched food for two years. The program also calls for helping local factories produce their own enriched porridge and noodles, Webb said.

North Korea has been struggling to feed its people since the mid-1990s, after natural disasters and mismanagement caused its economy to collapse. Famine has killed an estimated 2 million people.

Last fall, the U.N.'s Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said chronic food shortages will likely remain widespread in North Korea even though cereal production in 2005 was expected to be the nation's highest in a decade.

North Korea, which is the focus of international concern because of its nuclear program, has described its decision to stop receiving emergency food as based solely on improved conditions.