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North Korea accepts South Korean Red Cross’ offer of aid talks

April 19, 1997

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Facing possible famine, North Korea agreed Saturday to talks with South Korea’s Red Cross on aid to feed its hungry people.

After shunning similar proposals from rival South Korea in 1995 and 1995, North Korea accepted the latest offer just a day after it was made. The communist country usually rejects direct talks with South Koreans, accusing them of being U.S. puppets.

Disastrous food shortages are forcing North Korea to ease its insistence on self-sufficiency. U.N. aid workers warn that starvation looms within months unless the isolated nation receives massive aid.

Videotape obtained by The Associated Press provides a rare glimpse of conditions inside North Korea. The pictures show a starving cow tethered outside a crumbling cottage; the animal’s spine and rows of ribs stick out from its tightly stretched hide.

Another shot shows a boy in smeared clothes standing beside tracks at a station north of the capital of Pyongyang. Travelers say children besiege trains, begging handouts from passengers until guards chase them away.

North Korea’s Red Cross suggested that representatives from each side meet on May 3 in Beijing for talks on aid.

``There have long since been good examples of compatriotic and humanitarian help between the Red Cross organizations in the north and the south,″ North Korea’s Red Cross said, according to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.

South Korea’s proposal Friday had called for a meeting at the border village of Panmunjom ``at the earliest possible date.″

Meanwhile, in New York, North Korea has asked for more time before it announces whether it will accept a U.S.-South Korean proposal for talks on a peace treaty.

Seoul suspects the delay to be a ploy to pressure it and Washington to provide more aid. South Korean news media said North Korea has requested up to 600,000 tons of free food.

South Korea has promised state aid if North Korea agrees to a peace treaty officially ending their 1950-53 war. By sending food now through the Red Cross, Seoul can avoid officially easing its policy of offering aid to North Korea only in return for concessions.

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