Several U.N. agencies are in talks with the North Korean government on how to overcome a spat over emergency food aid after Pyongyang demanded that all such assistance be terminated and changed into development aid.
"This is a very sensitive issue," said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "There are discussions with the North Korean government at the moment ... in order to continue the humanitarian programs."
On Thursday, Choe Su Hon, North Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister, confirmed that his government had informed the United Nations that it wants all emergency humanitarian assistance from international organizations to stop by the end of the year, partly because of that it said was political interference from the United States, according to the AP.
The U.N. World Food Program said Friday it is negotiating with the North Korean government to find ways to change its food aid into development programs.
But the Rome-based organization stressed that the North Korean government had not asked it to leave the country.
"We have not been asked to terminate our assistance ... the government wants us to stay in place and the WFP wants to stay," said spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume.
This year, the WFP is providing food assistance to about 6.5 million North Koreans, mainly children, pregnant and nursing women, elderly or otherwise vulnerable people.
Berthiaume said that 70 per cent of WFP's aid already goes to development projects such as food-for-work programs or making enriched food. "We are talking on how to transfer the humanitarian assistance projects into development projects."
The nation of 23 million has received emergency food from the United Nations and other international groups since natural disasters and mismanagement caused its economy to collapse in the mid-1990s.
On photo: Choe Su Hon, North Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister.