North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of international staff it deploys to Pyongyang, saying the organization’s programs have failed “due to the politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces,” according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
North Korea wants the number of international staff with the UN Development Programme cut from six to one or two, the World Health Organization from six to four and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to cut its 13 staff by one or two.
In the letter dated August 21, Kim Chang Min, secretary-general for North Korea’s National Coordinating Committee for the United Nations, gave a deadline of the end of the year for the agencies to make the cuts.
Kim said the number of international staff with the World Food Programme should also be reduced “according to the amount of food aid to be provided”, once the agency and North Korean agree how to implement a plan for 2019 to 2021.
The UN estimates 10.3 million people – almost half the country’s population – are in need and some 41 percent of North Koreans are undernourished, while Pyongyang said in February it was facing a food shortfall this year and had to halve rations, blaming drought, floods and sanctions.
“Historically there’s been a critical lack of international expertise and oversight and capacity to monitor the use of the assistance that is provided,” said a UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re deeply surprised by this turn of events in part because this is when the needs have grown and the UN has been trying to mobilize support to scale up assistance in country.”
The move comes amid stalled talks between the US and North Korea aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. The UN Security Council has tightened sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for those programs.