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(Yonhap Interview) Int'l Red Cross head in Pyongyang hopes summit breakdown won't result in tough sanctions

North Korea 06:00 March 07, 2019

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, March 7 (Yonhap) -- The breakdown of last week's summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump should not result in toughening sanctions that could hamper humanitarian assistance projects, an international Red Cross official stationed in Pyongyang said.

Thierry Ribaux, the head of the Pyongyang office of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), made the remark in a written interview with Yonhap News Agency, days after the much-anticipated meeting between Kim and Trump ended without a deal.

"The Hanoi summit appears not to have yielded the outcomes that were expected by many," he said. "I do hope that this will not reflect on the implementation of the sanctions -- i.e. that humanitarian exemptions will continue to be at least granted in line with the text and the spirit of the U.N. resolution."

Kim and Trump met in Hanoi last week about eight months after their first-ever summit in Singapore, but they failed to strike a deal due to differences over what denuclearization measures and corresponding concessions should be traded between the two sides.

In the run-up to the summit, expectations were high that the meeting could produce a denuclearization-for-concessions deal that would lead to the easing of sanctions on North Korea and contribute to boosting humanitarian assistance efforts for people in need in the impoverished country.

Since the breakdown of the summit, however, Washington appears to be stepping up its rhetoric for more pressure and sanctions against Pyongyang, with National Security Advisor John Bolton warning that the U.S. will look at ramping up sanctions unless the North gives up its nuclear program.

(Yonhap Interview) Int'l Red Cross head in Pyongyang hopes summit breakdown won't result in tough sanctions - 1

Ribaux, who took office in December, urged the two Koreas to arrange more face-to-face reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, adding that the issue should be approached from a humanitarian perspective.

"Video calls constitute only a substitute to real family meetings. All stakeholders should put aside any considerations other than humanitarian and make sure such meetings (are) possible again," he said.

He said that the ICRC is ready to offer its services, "be it as a facilitator or to help implementing contacts between family members."

The latest family reunions were held in August, which was the first such event in about three years.

The two Koreas are now pushing to arrange video family reunions. A Seoul official earlier said that the United Nations Security Council has recently granted a sanctions waiver to allow video conferencing equipment to be sent to the North.

Since the launch of its Pyongyang mission in 2002, the ICRC, known for its commitment to wartime humanitarian assistance, has been involved in various areas in which it provides help to people in North Korea.

The Pyongyang office's work runs the gamut from support for health, urban water supply and sanitation to physical rehabilitation for disabled people.

One of the Pyongyang mission's priorities is to safely remove unexploded bombs dropped during the 1950-53 Korean War, he said.

"We are planning to continue to offer the support to the authorities for the safe removal of unexploded ordnance from the Korean War," Ribaux said. "This is a very unique project that has been ongoing (for) several years."

The ICRC earlier said that about 16,000 casualties have been caused in some 5,000 incidents related to unexploded bombs since the end of the Korean War, which means that about 150 people are victimized by unexploded bombs every year.

Asked about his main objectives during his 18-month term in Pyongyang, Ribaux said that he will stand for "principled humanitarian action" but also will be "opportunistic" in expanding its work there.

"I believe we do need to be at times opportunistic: if political dynamics create windows of opportunity in the humanitarian field, we need to seize them and engage a relevant dialogue and propose with workable options," he said, apparently referring to opportunities possibly created if denuclearization talks make progress.


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