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(Yonhap Interview) U.N. agency in talks with N. Korea to resume aid projects

By Kim Deok-hyun

BEIJING, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korea wants to get fresh aid loans from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) but that won't be possible unless it makes a "genuine" effort to repay its overdue debts, the U.N. agency's president said Sunday.

"If North Korea today decides to renegotiate its repayment, we will begin our activities," IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze told Yonhap News Agency in an interview in Beijing ahead of a three-day visit to South Korea.

Nwanze, in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials for aid programs for developing countries, said his agency has been in contact with North Korea over the past years for talks on rescheduling debts owed by North Korea to his agency.

IFAD has funded major agricultural projects in North Korea to the tune of about US$98 million since 1996, with $69.1 million of the budget used to provide agricultural loans to farmers in the country.

The projects were suspended in 2009 because North Korea failed to meet its obligations and repay its matured loans, Nwanze said.

Since late 2011, North Korea has been in contact with the IFAD over the resumption of the suspended projects, he said, adding that the country repaid only a small portion of the overdue loans in November last year.

"North Korea is still a member of the IFAD and they have representative officers at the IFAD," Nwanze said, adding that he met with North Korean officials before leaving Rome for China. The IFAD's head office is based in the Italian capital.

"They have approached us about restarting aid programs. I said, 'Rules are very clear. Once you make a genuine effort to repay your loans, we will immediately begin our activities,'" he said.

Nwanze, a Nigerian who was re-elected to the post in February for a second four-year term, said that any future IFAD-funded projects for North Korea will not be affected by international sanctions in force against the country over its nuclear weapons program.

"IFAD is not a strictly political organization. IFAD has its own rules of procedures and we are a financial institution," he said. "Let me make it correct. IFAD activities in North Korea will not be suspended because of any sanctions."

   Chronic food shortages are one of the major problems being faced by North Korea as it tries to rebuild its moribund economy. The North's young leader, Kim Jong-un, has publicly emphasized the need to develop the farm industry.

During his upcoming visit to South Korea, his second as IFAD president, which is set to begin on Monday, Nwanze said he would like to learn what has made it possible for the country to transform itself from a recipient of assistance to a significant donor.

"So, we want to look at how South Korea can actively play its role in the food security agenda as a whole," Nwanze said. "We believe that South Korea can do more in influencing its development agenda globally."