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Pyongyang bought $65 million in weapons under Seoul's previous gov't: report

All Headlines 13:20 October 06, 2008

By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, Oct. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has purchased US$65 million worth of weapons from overseas suppliers over the past five years, a report showed Monday, implying the generous aid provided by Seoul's previous administration may have ended up strengthening Pyongyang's military.

Between 2003 and early-2008, Pyongyang spent an average of $13 million each year in buying the latest arms from countries including China, Russia, Germany and the Slovak Republic, according to a government report to a ruling party lawmaker. China has been providing North Korea with such items as used armored vehicles and military uniforms, the report showed.

"The government believes North Korea has reinforced its armed forces by a notable extent during this period," said Rep. Kwon Young-se of the ruling Grand National Party.

Kwon called for more caution in providing aid to North Korea and enhanced monitoring of aid distribution, saying, "The report shows North Korea focused on developing its military capacity despite the shortage of food."

Transparency in the distribution of aid in the North has been a persistent question for many here over the past decade, with critics claiming most of the food is being used to feed the North's military and the country's elite instead of starving civilians, who are its intended recipients.

Previous South Korean administrations led by liberal leaders Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun sent approximately 400,000 tons of food to the North every year, but were blamed for not demanding proper monitoring of the distribution. Direct food relief shipments have been suspended this year after the launch of the conservative Lee Myung-bak government in February.

Last month, the U.N. World Food Program asked Seoul, as well as other countries, to contribute up to $60 million in food aid, citing the fact that the North is currently experiencing its worst food shortage in nearly a decade.

Seoul's incumbent government remains undecided on whether to provide the food aid amid chilling inter-Korean ties and Pyongyang's recent retreat from a 2007 aid-for-denuclearization deal with South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. The conservative Lee government is against what it calls an "unconditional flow of aid" to the North, firmly linking the handouts with Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament.

hayney@yna.co.kr
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