A group of European Union officials has arrived in North Korea for a two-week visit to assess the impoverished country’s food situation amid fears of imminent shortages, officials said Tuesday.
The European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) group arrived in Pyongyang on Monday, a Seoul foreign ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
EU officials will travel across North Korea until June 17 to review its food conditions, she said, adding they would launch a technical probe “upon a plea for aid”.
The EU delegation office in Seoul said it was aware of the trip but declined to comment.
Seoul’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said the five-member group would visit hospitals and childcare centres while interviewing ordinary people, government officials and foreign aid workers.
Some of the delegates will travel outside the showpiece city of Pyongyang and will decide whether to offer aid two or three weeks after the trip, it said, citing a diplomatic source in Seoul.
US officials made a similar trip between late May and early June. Robert King, the US special envoy for human rights in North Korea, said last week that Washington was still deciding whether to provide food.
The North, where hundreds of thousands died in a famine in the 1990s, suffers chronic food shortages.
This year Pyongyang pleaded with the US and other nations for food as international aid dwindled partly due to irritation over its nuclear programmes and tensions on the Korean peninsula.
International relief groups have voiced fears that parts of North Korea may run out of food in mid-June.
But some South Korean officials are sceptical about the need, saying North Korea wants to stockpile supplies for handouts to mark the 100th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il-Sung.