February 14, 2008 / 10:25 AM / 10 years ago

South Korea says has proof of North diverting aid

SEOUL, Feb 14 (Reuters) - South Korea has evidence that rice aid intended for the hungry in destitute North Korea has been diverted to the communist state’s powerful military, a South Korean defence ministry official said on Thursday.

South Korea is one of the biggest donors of rice to North Korea, which does not produce enough food for its nearly 23 million people. But Seoul has been criticised by aid groups for providing almost no checks to see that its aid is delivered to the needy.

South Korea’s largest newspaper Chosun Ilbo and others reported on Thursday that the military authorities have evidence North Korea distributed the South’s rice aid to its troops near the heavily armed border with the South on at least 10 occasions.

"The reports are true," a Defence Ministry official familiar with the matter said, asking not to be named. The official would not offer further details but said the military authorities have handed over information about diverted aid to relevant agencies.

The outgoing government of President Roh Moo-hyun has come under criticism for supplying a steady flow of aid to North Korea, which has riled the region by test-launching ballistic missiles, and conducting its first nuclear test in Oct. 2006.

"The government perceives that the level of securing transparency of distribution is not enough and will take various measures to increase this," the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement.

Members of the transition team for President-elect Lee Myung-bak have indicated South Korea will continue its humanitarian assistance to North Korea, but will step up monitoring. (Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Jessica Kim; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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