US 'not withholding food aid from North Korea'

South Koreans protest against US and South Korean policy towards North Korea, in Seoul - 26 April 2011 The US stopped food aid to North Korea in 2009 when Pyongyang said it was no longer wanted

US officials have denied an accusation from former President Jimmy Carter that the US is withholding food aid from North Korea.

A state department official said the North Korean government was responsible for the plight of its people.

US food aid was suspended two years ago after the North said it was not wanted.

North Korea has warned of severe food shortages this year as a result of the harsh winter. The UN has announced plans to distribute emergency food aid.

The UN's World Food Programme said 3.5m people in the North who were suffering from malnutrition would be fed.

The WFP said the operation "will include the highest standards of monitoring and control to ensure that food gets to where it is needed".

A regular concern of donors to North Korea is that aid gets siphoned off to the large armed forces and does not reach those most in need.

US and South Korean officials have blamed North Korea's autocratic government for the chronic food shortages the country faces.

North Korea has been dependent on food aid since famine in the mid-1990s.

'Human rights violation'

After a three-day trip to North Korea last week Mr Carter accused the US and South Korea of human rights violations against North Koreans by withholding food aid.

"One of the most important human rights is to have food to eat, and for South Korea and the US and others to deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people is really a human rights violation," he said.

"As you know well, the North Koreans were the ones who abruptly suspended the aid program in 2009, ordering our humanitarian personnel to leave the country and leave behind 20,000 metric tons of US food," the state department's director of policy planning, Jacob Sullivan, said.

"Everyone should remember who is responsible for the plight of the North Korean people, and that is the North Korean government itself," he said.

State department spokesperson Darragh Paradiso said on Thursday that US policy towards North Korea was "consistent with our long-standing goal of providing emergency humanitarian assistance to the people of countries around the world where there are legitimate humanitarian needs".

The US remained "concerned about the well being of the North Korean people," she said.

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