S. Korea urges North to spend on debt, not missiles

SEOUL: South Korea on Friday urged North Korea to repay millions of dollars in debt related to past food aid, and slammed the regime in Pyongyang for squandering scant resources on long-range missile tests.

The South provided the North with some 2.6 million tonnes of food worth US$720 million in six installments between 2000 and 2007.

The food aid was provided in the form of a cheap loan, with repayments to be made over 20 years. The first installment of US$5.83 million was due in June but was never paid, the Unification Ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-Suk said Seoul's state-run Export-Import Bank had sent a message to North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank, warning that delay penalties would be charged.

"Without repaying the debt, the North's leadership plans to launch a missile at a time when its people are suffering from food shortages," Kim told reporters.

"It is wasting money that could feed its people for several years."

North Korea has announced plans to launch a long-range rocket -- ostensibly aimed at placing a satellite in orbit -- between December 10 and 22.

The United States and its key Asian military allies, South Korea and Japan, insist the launch is a disguised ballistic missile test that violates UN resolutions triggered by Pyongyang's two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

In a report published Thursday, the unification ministry estimated that the North had spent US$1.3 billion dollars on it's long-range missile programme in 2012.

As well as food aid, the South has also lent the North equipment and materials worth US$140 million for railways and roads, and another US$88 million for developing light industry and natural resources.

The food and fertiliser aid ended after President Lee Myung-Bak took office in early 2008 and rolled back the "sunshine" policy of aid and engagement with the North.

- AFP/ck

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