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North Korea asks UN to cut international aid staff

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — North Korea has asked the United Nations to reduce the number of international staff it has deployed in the country because the world body’s programs have failed “because of the politicization of forces hostile to UN aid,” a letter seen by Reuters showed on Wednesday.

The United Nations estimates that 10.3 million people – about half of North Korea’s population – are in need of aid, while Pyongyang said in February it was facing food shortages this year and had to halve rations as it blamed drought, floods and sanctions.

“UN-backed programs have failed to achieve the desired results because of the politicization of forces hostile to UN assistance,” Kim Chang-min, secretary-general of the UN’s National Coordinating Committee in North Korea, said in a letter to his top UN official.

Kim said in the August 21 letter that international staff should be cut by the end of the year.

North Korea wants to reduce the number of UNDP international staff to one or two out of six, reduce the number of WHO staff to four out of six and the number of UNICEF staff by one or two out of 13.

Kim said the number of WFP international staff should be reduced “according to the amount of food assistance to be provided” once WFP and North Korea agree on how to implement a plan for 2019-2021.

The United Nations has not yet responded to a request for comment.

“Historically, there is a severe lack of expertise and capacity to monitor the use of aid,” said an international diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We have been very surprised by this turn of events partly because it comes at a time of increased needs and the United Nations is trying to mobilize support for increased assistance in this country,” he said.

This comes amid stalled talks between the United States and North Korea aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. The UN Security Council has unanimously increased sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to cut off funding for those programs.

“The decisions of the North Korean government only harm its people,” said a second UN diplomat.

“This comes at a time when Russia and China are making the wrong account that sanctions are causing humanitarian problems in North Korea and that the only way to resolve this is to ease sanctions on North Korea,” he said.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia told reporters on Tuesday that unilateral sanctions imposed by other countries on North Korea and some tough interpretations of UN sanctions were hampering humanitarian efforts.

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