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N. Korea Reducing Oversea Missions

March 14, 1998

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Strapped for cash, North Korea said today it will sharply reduce its overseas diplomatic operations until the country’s food shortages and other economic woes end.

``To cope with the acute situation, we have decided to reduce and readjust missions abroad some by 30 percent until the food and economic problems are solved,″ a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The KCNA dispatch gave no further details and did not identify the spokesman by name.

The announcement came a day after the communist North said it had begun a ``wartime mobilization,″ accusing the United States and South Korea of plotting a war against the isolated country.

South Korea dismissed the mobilization as a routine military exercise, and its military took no special measures to bolster the nation’s defenses.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin suggested the exercises were not a cause for concern because the number of military operations and training in North Korea are both down. Similar exercises also are held in South Korea.

North Korea has diplomatic ties with about 130 countries, according to South Korean officials.

Former North Korean diplomats who have defected to South Korea in recent years have said that North Korea has been reducing staff and operation in its foreign missions for years.

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