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The executive director of the World Food Program said Tuesday in Tokyo that while some restrictions remain, his organization has become slightly freer to monitor the distribution of food aid in North Korea.

“We are required to give several days’ notice on where we’re going to travel,” James Morris told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. He said monitoring by WFP staff is less restricted in rural areas.

In other recipient countries, WFP workers are able to move freely and stop where they like, including such places as households and institutions, he said.

He said North Korea now approves WFP requests “99 percent” of the time, compared with five years ago, when 90 percent of requests were approved.

The international organization has six offices and about 110 employees in North Korea. It made 513 monitoring visits last month to North Korean facilities and households, he said.

The WFP provided about 500,000 tons of food from 18 nations, including Japan and the United States, to North Korea this year.

Morris dismissed allegations that the group’s food aid has been resold on the North Korean black market. But he did not rule out the possibility that aid from South Korea has been sold with Seoul’s approval.

Morris, who is on a five-day visit to Japan, said that Tokyo will send officials to North Korea next week to ensure that its 125,000 tons of food aid is being properly distributed.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi promised 250,000 tons of food aid to North Korea during a May summit in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Half of the food aid has already been sent through the WFP, government sources said.

Morris said he understands Japan’s desire to check the aid’s distribution.

“In a place where we don’t have complete freedom of access and aren’t able to pursue the same standard of random monitoring, our donors have every right to be concerned about monitoring,” he said.

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