SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ A label from a can of U.S.-donated beef has been found in a North Korean submarine that ran aground off South Korea last year, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said today.
A ministry spokesman said the discovery prompted South Korea to ask the United States and international aid groups to seek closer monitoring of food aid to the famine-stricken nation out of concern that some might be diverted to its military.
``We take it seriously,″ the spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.
Ministry officials said the torn and scorched label was found inside the spy submarine by U.S. Navy officers taking part in a U.S.-South Korea military exercise in August.
Legible portions of the label said the beef was ``Food for relief, in the name of Christ,″ donated by ``Mennonite Churches of Va.,″ they said.
South Korean military officials said they had searched the submarine twice before without finding the label.
There has been concern that North Korea may be diverting relief goods, donated from the outside to aid its starving people, to its 1.1-million military, the backbone of its communist system.
Last week, the United States said it will stop providing food to the North unless the country permits broader monitoring of its distribution.
While there is no evidence U.S. food aid is being diverted to the North’s military, international relief monitors do not have access to many rural areas, U.S. officials say.
North Korea’s food shortage has worsened in the past two years because of devastating floods and drought. It has received more than 800,000 tons of donated food, including 177,000 tons from the United States.
Discovery of the beached sub on South Korea’s east coast in September, 1996, touched off a hunt for its 26 occupants. All but two were killed. One was captured and another was believed to have escaped to the North.