Elders Group Urges Aid for North Korea, Talks With Pyongyang

Posted June 8th, 2011 at 10:10 am (UTC-5)
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A group of former world leaders, known as the Elders, is urging the international community to work with aid agencies to provide food aid to North Korea, and is calling for countries to back a resumption of talks between North and South Korea.

The recommendations are in the report of an Elders' visit to North Korea in April, which was released recently . The report also urges North Korea to comply with the United Nations Human Rights Council's resolution on its rights performance, including allowing a U.N. special rapporteur on rights to visit the country, which is considered one of the most repressive in the world.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland and former Irish President Mary Robinson, say they took note of humanitarian concerns in the impoverished North Korea. Those include a shortage of drinkable water, a drastic shortage of medicines, high maternal and infant mortality rates and a lack of basic educational materials.

They noted there are concerns that past aid has been diverted to North Korea's military and elites, but they report the WFP has gotten assurances from Pyongyang of unprecedented control over food deliveries and access to monitor distribution. Ms. Robinson said “donors should be reassured” by the North's promise to cooperate on monitoring.

Their report cites figures from the U.N. World Food Program and other U.N. agencies and international aid groups that indicate as much as a quarter of the population of 24 million faces dire hunger because of natural disasters, falling donations and internal problems with North Korea's food distribution system.

The Elders say North Korean leader Kim Jong Il gave them a message saying Pyongyang was willing to return to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear weapons program without condition. He also told them North Korea will abide by a 2005 agreement on the matter.

However, they note that South Korea remains reluctant to resume the talks until Pyongyang takes “sincere” actions on dismantling its nuclear programs. Seoul also is not willing to engage in formal bilateral talks until North Korea apologizes for two military incidents last year, in which more than 40 South Koreans died. The North denies involvement in the first – a torpedo that sank a South Korean navy ship, and says that its artillery attack on a South Korean island that killed four was in self defense after hostile activity from South Korean troops.

The United States and European Union recently have sent delegations to assess the North's food needs and are considering aid. The WFP has asked for more than $200 million in aid funds this year.

North Korea has relied on foreign aid to feed its people since a famine hit the nation in the mid-1990s. But its pursuit of nuclear weapons, including two tests of nuclear explosives, as well as concerns about diversion, have made many countries unwilling to send food.

The Elders group brings together 11 former world leaders, many of them Nobel Peace Prize winners, to find peaceful ways to end international conflict and address humanitarian issues.