North Korea wants UN staff cut, but UN says they're vital

EDITH M. LEDERER

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

Kim Chang Min, secretary general of North Korea's National Coordinating Committee, said in a letter to the U.N. resident coordinator in North Korea that in recent years "U.N. supported programs failed to bring the results as desired due to the politicization of U.N. assistance by hostile forces." It did not identify those parties.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday that "we're in dialogue at this point on the issue of cutting international aid staff in DPRK," the initials of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

But Dujarric added that U.N. and international organizations reached over 2 million people with humanitarian aid in 2018, including food, nutrition and health projects.

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

Kim's letter to U.N. coordinator Tapan Mishra, a copy of which was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, says North Korea values its collaboration with U.N. agencies and appreciates Mishra's efforts "to reactivate U.N. 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 U.N. intervention in the country run dramatically low due to politicization of aid by hostile forces."

Kim said that by year's end, the number of international staff for the U.N. Development Program must be cut from six to one or two, at the World Health Organization from six to four, and at the U.N. children's agency UNICEF from 13 to 11 or 12. In addition, he said the U.N. World Food Program needs to adjust its international staff according to the amount of food aid to be provided in the strategic plan for 2019-2021.

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

North Korea had initially told the United Nations it was sending a Cabinet-level minister to the General Assembly meeting that starts Sept. 24. But the latest updated speakers list downgrades its participation to the "chief of delegation," which usually means the country's U.N. ambassador though it could also be an even lower ranking government official.