North Korea wants fewer UN staff in country, but UN says they're vital

In a photo taken on April 25, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) at Far East Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia.
In a photo taken on April 25, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) at Far East Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia.PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - North Korea wants the number of UN international staff in the country reduced by the end of the year over what it claims is the politicisation of aid by parties hostile to its government, but the United Nations says the mission's current "light footprint" is vital.

Mr Kim Chang Min, secretary-general of North Korea's National Coordinating Committee, said in a letter to the UN resident coordinator in North Korea that in recent years, "UN supported programmes failed to bring the results as desired due to the politicisation of UN assistance by hostile forces".

It did not identify those parties.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday (Sept 5) that "we're in dialogue at this point on the issue of cutting international aid staff in DPRK", referring to the initials of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

But Mr Dujarric added that UN and international organisations reached over two million people with humanitarian aid in 2018, including food, nutrition and health projects.

"UN operations already have a light footprint on the ground, and continued capacity at current levels is vital for ensuring continued UN support for critical food security, water, nutrition programming as well as mobilising resources," he said.

Mr Kim's letter to UN coordinator Tapan Mishra, a copy of which was obtained on Thursday by The Associated Press, says North Korea values its collaboration with UN agencies and appreciates Mr Mishra's efforts "to reactivate UN support in the DPRK".

But, the letter adds, "we are compelled to consider the reduction of international staffs resident in the DPRK, taking into account the fact that the scope and amount of UN intervention in the country run dramatically low due to politicisation of aid by hostile forces".

Mr Kim said that by year's end, the number of international staff for the UN Development Programme must be cut from six to one or two, for the World Health Organisation from six to four, and for the UN children's agency Unicef from 13 to 11 or 12.

 

In addition, he said the UN World Food Programme needs to adjust its international staff according to the amount of food aid to be provided in the strategic plan for 2019 to 2021.

The letter comes at a time of stalled United States-North Korea nuclear negotiations and weeks before world leaders gather at the UN General Assembly for their annual meeting.

North Korea had initially told the UN it was sending a Cabinet-level minister to the General Assembly meeting that starts on Sept 24.

But the latest updated speakers list downgrades its participation to the "chief of delegation", which usually means the country's UN ambassador, though it could also be an even lower ranking government official.