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South Korea lacks a “mature humanitarian policy”

Speaking at a news conference in December 2016 after returning from a three-week visit to the DPRK, Stephen Linton, Chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation (EBF), said South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MoU) lacked a “mature humanitarian policy.”

“I went to the Ministry of Unification a few days ago”, he said, “and asked their permission to ship the first round of [medical supplies] in 2017, but their answer wasn’t favorable, saying ‘not now, and please wait.'”

Recalling that an official from the MoU pledged at a┬ámeeting in August that they would ensure the foundation could send MDR-TB drugs to North Korea ‘without any problems’, Linton said he “asked whether our [verbal] promise was broken, but they gave us an absurd answer, [telling me] I could ‘go and ask Kim Jong Un’ [the reason for not approving the shipment].”

Linton pointed out that the medical supplies had to be loaded in January, despite the MoU’s claims the foundation could wait until March, April or May. Any delay, Linton said, “increases the possibility that [the drugs] may arrive [in the North] after our visit in May,” noting that “if our patients run out of drugs and develop increased drug resistance, they are likely to die. We must avoid this.” [Editor’s Note: On 17 January the MoU finally allowed the Eugene Bell Foundation to ship the delayed multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) medication to the DPRK.]

Linton is on record as arguing that humanitarian aid should continue regardless of North Korean provocation and political strife between the two Koreas. This latest setback for EBF followed an earlier incident in 2016 when it took weeks of pressure from EBF before authorities in Seoul would issue permits for the export of three containers of desperately needed specialist medical supplies destined for the ongoing treatment of MDR-TB sufferers in Eugene Bell Foundation supported clinics in the North.

EBF pointedly stated at the time that the ROK government had failed to make humanitarian aid an exception to the additional sanctions against the DPRK it announced in March of that year and that the lives of more than 1,500 North Korean MDR-TB sufferers were at risk because of this.

Original story and reporting by Dagyum Ji in NK News here.