4/16/2012 - Warships search for North Korea rocket debris as US calls of aid
South Korean warships scoured the Yellow Sea on Saturday in search of debris from a failed North Korean rocket launch that has heightened tensions in the region and brought international condemnation on the country's new leader amid a week of lavish celebrations to mark the centenary of the nation's founder.
AP said South Korea's navy has deployed about 10 ships, including a corvette with sonar radar, to search for rocket debris, a Defence Ministry official said Saturday. He refused to provide further details and asked not to be named because the sensitive mission was still under way.
US Navy minesweepers and other ships were also believed to be in the area and were expected to join the search, which could offer evidence of what went wrong and what rocket technology North Korea has. Japan's Defense Ministry said it is not participating in the search because none of the debris is believed to have fallen in Japanese waters.
Japan's vice-minister of defence, Shu Watanabe, warned the North not to try to block the search, saying in a televised interview that any such effort could heighten military tensions.
The rocket's disintegration just moments after liftoff Friday brought a rare public acknowledgment of failure from Pyongyang, which had hailed the launch as a show of strength amid North Korea's persistent economic hardship.
The launch was timed to coincide with the country's biggest holiday in decades, the 100th birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
International condemnation was swift, including the suspension of US food aid, and raised concerns that the North's next move could be even more provocative: a nuclear test, the country's third.
The UN Security Council denounced the launch as a violation of two resolutions that prohibit North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs, and met behind closed doors to consider a response.
The council imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second in 2009.
President Barack Obama said North Korea's failed rocket launch shows the country is wasting money on rockets that "don't work" while its people starve. He told Spanish-language TV network "Telemundo" that the North Koreans have "been trying to launch missiles like this for over a decade now, and they don't seem to be real good at it."
Still, he called the failed launch Friday an area of deep concern for the United States and said the U.S. will work with other nations to "further isolate" North Korea.
North Korea called the Kwangmyongsong, or ‘Bright Shining Star’, satellite a scientific achievement.
Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to strike the U.S. and other targets with a long-range missile. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not yet believed to be able to build a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile.
AFP reports that the US has called off plans to send food aid to North Korea after the rocket launch, as an aid group feared more than two million children would go hungry.
The US had already suspended the plan to deliver 240 000 metric tons of assistance aimed at children and pregnant women as North Korea prepared what the regime called an unsuccessful bid to put a satellite in orbit.
Obama's administration, which had fine-tuned the aid package for months before announcing it February 29, said it was "impossible" to move forward after what US officials considered a flopped missile test.
"Their efforts to launch a missile clearly demonstrate that they could not be trusted to keep their commitments," deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said aboard Air Force One en route to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas.
"Therefore we are not going forward with an agreement to provide them with any assistance."
Under the February 29 deal aimed at easing longstanding tensions, the United States agreed to deliver aid under supervision in the authoritarian state and North Korea said it would freeze its nuclear and missile tests.
Asked if the food aid was off indefinitely, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the United States no longer "can frankly trust the North Koreans that this will end up in appropriate hands."
Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have died in a famine in the 1990s. UN agencies estimated in November after a visit to the North that three million people would need food aid in 2012.
Mercy Corps, one of five US non-governmental groups that would have delivered the aid, said the assistance would have reached more than two million North Korean children and tens of thousands of pregnant women.
David Austin, the North Korea program director for Mercy Corps, said that the United States for generations had donated food to the needy regardless of political considerations.
"It is a shift to using food as a policy tool and it's one that we have a lot of concern about. We think it's become a distraction because it removes the focus from people who are in need and people whom we can save," he told AFP.
Austin visited North Korea in March and said he spoke to an administrator of an orphanage who told him that children were receiving 60 percent of normal daily rations and had not had any protein for two months.
Food delivery would come in bags emblazoned with the American flag and a message, "Free gift of the American people," he said.
"This is one of the only opportunities we have to create a connection between the people of North Korea and the people of the United States - and a connection around saving the lives of children is a great way to engage," Austin said.
The European Union last year announced aid of $13 million in support for hungry North Koreans and the UN's World Food Program in the country. But Austin said parts of the country receive no outside help due to underfunding.
The Obama administration's food plan had been unpopular with many lawmakers of the rival Republican Party, who voiced concern that it would throw a lifeline to Kim Jong-Un's communist dynasty.
Representative Ed Royce, a Republican from California, had sought to bar US food aid, saying that the assistance would allow the regime to spend money on weapons.
After the launch, Royce called for a "new, comprehensive North Korea policy" that includes addressing human rights concerns and bringing outside information into the closed state.
North Korea is estimated by some experts to spend one-quarter of its budget on its military.
In March 2009, the regime abruptly kicked out US aid groups who left behind some 20 000 metric tons of food from a previous deal.