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Red Cross: Fuel Sanctions in N. Korea Will Affect Aid Efforts - 2002-12-07

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it is deeply concerned that fuel sanctions on North Korea could have a disastrous effect on aid operations in that country. The Red Cross says fuel shortages could prevent aid agencies from delivering essential relief supplies this winter. The United States, Japan and South Korea decided last month to suspend fuel oil shipments to North Korea, for violating a 1994 agreement to end its nuclear weapons program.

Red Cross Spokesman Denis McClean says his agency is not taking a stance on whether fuel sanctions should be imposed.

"We are asking for the people who are imposing these sanctions to take into account the humanitarian needs on the ground," he said. "And to bear in mind that the blanket imposition of a ban on fuel in the country would have serious consequences for organizations like the Red Cross, which is trying to meet the needs of very, very vulnerable people, who are already very close to the edge, and it will not take very much to push them over."

The Red Cross says a severe fuel shortage in the country is already costing lives. It says the lack of fuel for heating is responsible for a high incidence of acute respiratory infections because people are unable to keep warm. Mr. McClean says humanitarian organizations are having difficulties delivering aid, including food, because of a lack of fuel for trucks. He says the fuel sanctions will only worsen an already dire situation.

"You should also remember that it has been announced in recent weeks that three million children, women and elderly people will no longer be receiving food rations from the World Food Program. So, that is also going to impact on the health situation in the country," Mr. McClean said. "And, we are afraid that the most vulnerable in the country will be pushed over the edge this winter because of a lack of fuel, lack of transport, hunger and cold. And, we do not think this is right."

The Red Cross estimates at least one-quarter of North Korea's 22 million people is dependent on food handouts. The number is growing all the time. The Red Cross says the country is facing a shortfall of more than one million tons of food next year.