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Negotiators to speed up energy aid to N.Korea

SOUTH KOREA: North Korea's five negotiating partners will speed up energy aid to the communist state in hopes it will finish disabling its nuclear plants more quickly, a South Korean official said Wednesday.

Representatives from the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan met at the border truce village of Panmunjom to discuss the aid promised in return for a shutdown of its nuclear programme.

The six nations have been meeting since 2003. Last year they reached a landmark deal under which the North would disable its plutonium-producing plants in return for one million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent energy aid.

The energy-starved North complains the five have been slow to deliver the aid and has said previously it was slowing down disablement in response.

The five met separately Tuesday in Seoul and agreed "that economic assistance to DPRK (North Korea) should be accelerated," said Hwang Joon-Kook, head of the North Korean nuclear bureau at Seoul's foreign ministry. They also agreed "that acceleration of economic assistance must be matched by the acceleration of disablement and other related measures," Hwang said in opening remarks.

At a similar meeting last week the North protested over what it called the very slow pace of energy assistance. About half the aid will be actual fuel oil and the rest equivalent assistance to patch up decrepit power networks.

"While the disabling has been completed for more than 80 percent, overall energy cooperation business is going very slowly - at 30 percent to 36 percent," its representative Hyun Hak-Bong said at the time.

Hwang on Wednesday denied the North's claims, saying some 490,000 tons of aid had been provided on a contract basis.

"We also disagree with the 80 percent part, considering the fact that more important phases are yet to be completed," he told a briefing after the morning session. Japan has yet to take part in the aid. It wants the North to come clean on the kidnapping of Japanese citizens during the Cold War era before it does so.

US State Department official Sung Kim visited Pyongyang this week to discuss disablement work and was scheduled to return to Seoul late Wednesday.

Panmunjom, Wednesday, AFP



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