+ A

Pyongyang’s head of TB asks a U.S. group for aid

Dec 15,2017
A North Korean government official in charge of tuberculosis control sent a letter to a U.S.-based humanitarian foundation asking for more aid, a rare move that hints at the regime’s struggle in the face of international sanctions, the Eugene Bell Foundation said Thursday.

Stephen W. Linton, founder and president of the group, explained in a press briefing in Seoul that the letter was sent from Choe Dong-chol, an official of North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health, on Nov. 27.

Choe was said to have explained that his country was facing difficulty treating tuberculosis patients due to a lack of medical aid, adding the international sanctions were blocking humanitarian aid from reaching the North.

Linton said he was asked by Choe to help treat triple the amount of North Koreans the foundation was currently treating, from 1,000 every year to 3,000 annually.

Pyongyang has complained over multiple occasions how the sanctions were affecting its citizens via statements read out by its United Nations mission, but a letter directly issued from a government official to a foreign humanitarian group comes as a rarity.

South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration allowed local civic groups to contact the North to offer aid this year, but no known transactions have actually been made so far because North Korea snubbed the gestures, suggesting both sides talk when political circumstances were right.

Seoul decided last September to give the North $8 million worth of aid through the United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as Unicef, and the UN’s World Food Program, but the transfer has been delayed ever since. Seoul said the donations will be carried out “with considerations of South-North relations.”

Linton urged the South Korean government to seize Kim’s letter as a chance to reach out to the North Korean people, stressing he has not seen a better chance in the last 30 years of doing business with the country.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]