Contrary to media reports, the United Nations World Food Program says North Korea has not told the agency to end its humanitarian operations and to leave the country. However, WFP tells VOA the terms of its engagement in the country may change at the start of the New Year.
The World Food Program says it will continue working with the North Korean government. Spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, says millions of North Koreans are in desperate need of assistance and WFP will be around to make sure they get the food aid they need.
"The North Korean authorities have not asked WFP to leave the country and to stop the distribution of food aid," she said. "On the contrary, the authorities have told us that we are a very valuable partner and they asked us to stay."
However, Ms. Berthiaume notes the North Korean authorities have indicated they want WFP to shift its focus away from humanitarian emergency assistance toward long-term development programs.
As it is, she says about 70 percent of WFP's activities in North Korea deal with development. For example, she notes WFP supports food-for-work projects. People who work on community projects such as agricultural and irrigation schemes or help build roads and houses receive food in payment for their services.
But, Ms. Berthiaume acknowledges that the current situation is unclear. She says negotiations with the North Korean government and international donors are under way to see how WFP's assistance program can be used to support development.
"The situation right now is very confused. And, yes, we are preoccupied. We are concerned," she admitted. "And, what we do not want is that this issue has a negative impact on the 6.5 million people that desperately need food aid and they desperately need assistance…help has to be given to those people. We should not condemn to death a five-year-old kid because he was born in North Korea. It is not his fault."
Ms. Berthiaume says she is dismayed that the North Korean government has asked private aid agencies to leave the country. Unlike its operations in other nations, she says WFP does not rely on non-governmental organizations to distribute food to beneficiaries in North Korea. Nevertheless, she says these agencies do important work. She says the country benefits greatly from their presence and it would be to its detriment to have them leave.