NGOs offer North Korea food aid

The alleged abductions of Japanese by North Korean agents has partly made Tokyo reluctant to extend food aid to the famine-threatened nation. However, this has not stopped some Japanese and Korean residents here from offering help, mainly through nongovernmental organizations.

But a pro-Seoul Korean organization, as well as other Japanese activists, are reluctant to offer emergency relief because of doubts about the Stalinist state and suspicions that the aid may not reach those who really need help. Since 1995, the first year when major floods hit the country, more than 100 nongovernmental organizations in Japan have sent relief materials to North Korea, according to the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun). Chongryun’s headquarters in Tokyo has taken on the role of North Korea’s de facto embassy in Japan.

Most of the relief goods have been transported by sea from Niigata to the North Korean east coast city of Wonsan. There are two to three regular monthly liner services across the Sea of Japan. In some cases, Japanese NGOs bought inexpensive rice in Thailand and sent it from there, Chongryun said.

This year alone, nine groups have contributed more than 30 metric tons of rice in addition to other kinds of food and clothes, it said. Among the contributing organizations is Motherland Academy International, a Tokyo-based group of 370 mothers that has assisted children in poor countries for 13 years. Since 1995 it has sent 110 metric tons of rice to North Korea, said Fumiko Murakami, head of the NGO.

She and a colleague visited North Korea in early April and presented 5 kg of rice each to about 150 people at three food distribution centers, in addition to more than 10 tons of rice given to nine facilities for children. Murakami quoted one women as telling her the next distribution of food would be 15 days later. The people waited in tidy lines and none of them tried to snatch away rice bags, she said. Concerning the alleged abductions, Murakami commented, “It is a very grave problem, but we can resolve it and send aid at the same time.”