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NKorea should spend money on food not nukes: UN rights envoy

SEOUL (AFP) - A United Nations rights envoy urged North Korea to spend its money feeding its people rather than on nuclear weapons, as talks opened in Beijing on scrapping the nuclear program.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, was speaking after a four-day fact-finding visit to
South Korea. He is barred from visiting the North.

"The military-first policy, particularly its expenditure on arms and nuclear proliferation in the DRPK (North Korea), is regrettable because the money should be spent on human development and particularly to address food security issues as well as other human needs," he told a press conference in Seoul.

Vitit said donors had also become less willing to contribute after the North's missile tests in July and its nuclear test on October 9.

He said the UN's World Food Programme had appealed for just over 100 million dollars to feed 1.9 million people over the next two years, but had received only 12-13 percent of this in donations.

"The whole humanitarian aid has been very much impacted upon by the nuclear test and missile tests, as some contributors become much more reluctant both multilaterally and bilaterally to give aid."

Vitit also noted that food shortages dated back to the mid-1990s "due to natural disasters and mismanagement." But at the end of last year the North decided to accept less monitoring of food aid and "started to pressure UN agencies and NGOs to limit their operations and even to leave the country."

Saying it "takes two to tango," he urged the North to show its commitment by allocating its own funds to ensure adequate food supplies.

Vitit visited South Korea's Hanawon refugee resettlement centre and said all those he met talked of "hardship, deprivation and repression" in the North.

He urged nations which receive North Koreans fleeing their homeland to treat them as refugees rather than economic migrants.

Vitit did not single out any nation but rights groups have strongly criticized China which routinely returns refugees to North Korea, where they face imprisonment and torture.

He said positive developments in the six-party talks, which resumed Monday, would open opportunities for humanitarian action.

"There may be in that process, some possibilities for addressing other issues, security concerns, as well as possibly human rights," Vitit said.

He urged the North to end its "discrepancies and transgressions" on human rights and implement the four international treaties to which it is a party.

In a report released in October, Vitit accused North Korea of practising "merciless discrimination against handicapped persons by setting up collective camps for them where they are designated according to their physical deformity or disability."

The report also charged that women in North Korea were being subjected to violence as well as "human trafficking and sexual exploitation."

The envoy, in the report, also focused on the root causes pushing North Koreans to flee abroad -- citing political repression and widespread hunger.