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N. Korea increases grain imports from China

All Headlines 11:42 June 30, 2011

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- North Korea imported more than 50,000 tons of grains from its key ally China in May, an expert said Thursday, amid chronic food shortages in the North.

The North purchased 50,328 tons of corn, flour and rice in May, up 31.5 percent compared to the same period last year, said Kwon Tae-jin, a North Korea expert at the Korea Rural Economic Institute.

The North also imported 114,300 tons of fertilizer from China in the first five months, a rise of 39 percent compared to the same period last year, Kwon said, citing figures from Seoul's Korea International Trade Association.

China is the North's last remaining ally, key economic benefactor and diplomatic supporter.

In March, the U.N. food agency appealed for 430,000 tons of food aid to feed 6 million vulnerable North Korean people, a quarter of the country's population.

Washington sent its delegation to North Korea in May to assess the food situation, though no decision on food aid has been made yet.

The North has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s when it suffered a massive famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.

However, the outside aid has dwindled following the North's missile and nuclear tests and other provocations.

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