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(LEAD) N.K. likely to conduct another nuke test this year: Seoul official

All Headlines 14:15 September 27, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, first 6 paras)

SEOUL, Sept. 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is likely to conduct another nuclear test this year as it has vowed to beef up its nuclear force following its fifth nuke test in early September, South Korea's point man on unification said Tuesday.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said that North Korea has threatened to stage nuclear pre-emptive attacks against South Korea, claiming that it is a nuclear state.

"Given signs for preparations for a nuclear test, North Korea is likely to make another provocation this year," the minister said during a parliamentary audit.

Experts said that Pyongyang may launch a long-range rocket or conduct a nuclear test around Oct. 10, the 71st anniversary of the foundation of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

(LEAD) N.K. likely to conduct another nuke test this year: Seoul official - 1

Seoul's unification ministry reaffirmed its stance not to provide assistance to North Korea to help it fight the latest flood in the northeast province, given heightened tensions.

North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9 even as its North Hamgyong Province was ravaged by what it called the worst flood in over seven decades.

"By taking into account aspects of the aid's effectiveness and transparency, as well as public opinion, we are not considering providing North Korea with assistance at this point," the ministry said in a report to the National Assembly.

Heavy rains pummeled North Korea's northeast area for five days starting Aug. 29, leaving nearly 140 North Koreans dead and about 400 missing.

Seoul condemned North Korea for pouring money into its nuclear program while neglecting the suffering of its people in the flood-hit areas.

Touching on the North's food situation, North Korea may see the volume of its food shortage reach nearly 700,000 tons between November last year and October due mainly to a drought which hit the country last year, the ministry said.

North Korea's food production is estimated to reach 4.8 million tons in the fiscal year 2016, smaller than its food demand worth of 5.5 million tons, it said.

The report was made based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP), which compile relevant information by setting the start of its base year at November.

The food shortage tallied in the fiscal year 2016 was larger than about 407,000 tons in 2015, it said.

It was attributable to the fact that the drought reduced crop production in North Korea last year, along with a decrease in the supply of fertilizers, it added.

"Food rationing is believed to be being made in Pyongyang and certain areas," the ministry said. "But whether the country actually conducts food rationing depends on timing and crop production."

Since 2014, the international community has increased food aid to North Korea, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

International organizations, civic groups and the Red Cross have extended food aid worth US$37.9 million in the Jan. 1-Sept. 6 period, compared with $35.4 million in 2015, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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