The main United Nations development aid agency has suspended operations in North Korea and is recalling its international staff. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from U.N. headquarters in New York.

The U.N. Development Program notified North Korea last week that all its operations in the impoverished nation have been halted, effective immediately. Eight international UNDP staffers are being recalled from Pyongyang, and 15 North Koreans working for the agency are losing their jobs.

In January, the UNDP executive board halted all new projects in the country and ordered changes in its operations to prevent hard currency being funneled to North Korea's leaders. That decision came after the United States delegate to the board accused the Pyongyang government of "systematically perverting aid programs to the benefit of the regime, rather than to the people of North Korea".

North Korea described the charges as "fiction" and said they were part of a smear campaign aimed at crippling Pyongyang's nuclear program.

UNDP spokesman David Morrison says a high-level North Korean delegation came to New York last week to discuss the suspension, but no agreement was reached. He said the March first cutoff was automatic after North Korea, or DPRK as it is often called, failed to comply with terms of the board's January decision.

"The ball is clearly now in the court of the DPRK authorities," said David Morrison. "Our hands to a very real extent are tied. We're obliged to follow the decision of our executive board, and that included DPRK. If the DPRK authorities come back to us in a way that gives us confidence we can be in full compliance with the 25th of January decision, then we would consider alternatives, but that's not on the table, therefore we had no choice but to suspend operations."

The suspension means a halt to $4.4 million worth of projects in North Korea. Most of the activities involve efforts to help the North Korean government improve systems to manage aid projects and the overall economy.

Morrison says there will be no disruption in humanitarian aid programs operated by other U.N. agencies, including the World Food Program and UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund.

But as for the development aid programs, Morrison says the decision is not likely to be reviewed until at least June, when the next UNDP board meeting is scheduled.