updated 5/10/2006 10:22:41 PM ET 2006-05-11T02:22:41

The World Food Program has reached agreement with North Korea to resume food aid to the hunger-stricken country, but the operation will be smaller than it was before its suspension in December, the U.N. agency said Thursday.

The new program will feed 1.9 million of the "most needy" people in the North, Tony Banbury, the agency's Asia regional director, said at a news conference in Beijing. That is down from the 6.5 million people the agency was feeding in past years.

The agreement was signed Wednesday in Pyongyang, Banbury said.

"We would have liked to see a bigger operation, but that was not possible at this time," he said.

The WFP will be allowed 10 foreign staff members in North Korea and an office in Pyongyang, the capital, Banbury said. In the past, the agency had 32 foreigners in the country and five regional offices in addition to the capital.

But he said the agency would supply food aid only in areas where it could monitor distribution in order to assure foreign donors that the aid was reaching its intended beneficiaries.

North Korea has relied for more than a decade on foreign donations to feed its people.

But the secretive Stalinist regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has restricted activities of foreign aid agencies and pressed them to reduce the size of their foreign staffs in the country.

The WFP suspended aid in December after the North's government asked the agency to shift its focus to economic development aid. The two sides have been negotiating since then.

Late last year, the North expelled all private aid groups in apparent retaliation for the European Union's decision to sponsor a United Nations resolution criticizing its human rights record.

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