United Church of Canada issues statement on the crisis in the Korean Peninsula

[The United Church in Canada on 15 March 2013 issued the following “Statement on the Crisis in the Korean Peninsula.” The original text can be accessed here. –CanKor]

UCC crestThe United Church of Canada is gravely concerned about the escalation of tension in the Korean Peninsula. We fear for the safety of the people in North and South Korea, and the whole of Northeast Asia, should a war erupt.

We are concerned by the ongoing joint military exercises of the United States and the Republic of South Korea and the mounting threats of military actions from the Governments of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United States, and South Korea. We fear that these provocative actions are increasing the danger of armed confrontation in the region.

The current crisis in the Korean Peninsula points to the unresolved issues in the region, including the failure to obtain a peace treaty to end the state of war, and the international sanctions against North Korea. The resolution of these issues requires re-engagement of all parties in finding lasting solutions to the problems in the Korean Peninsula.

We call on the Government of Canada to help in promoting an atmosphere conducive to renewed negotiations among the states involved in the conflict by renewing its engagement in confidence-building measures and contact with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea urging the Governments of the United States and of North and South Korea to return to the negotiating table. Read the rest of this entry »

WCC general secretary calls for end to increased tension on Korean peninsula

[The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has called for an end to the increase of tensions on the Korean peninsula and encourages the parties involved to move immediately to dialogue about peace, reconciliation and reunification. The WCC comprises 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians and including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. –CanKor]

Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit (Photo by Peter Williams, WCC)

Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit (Photo by Peter Williams, WCC)

The situation on the Korean Peninsula is of increasing concern to the WCC not only because of the impact on its member churches in South Korea, but also for the Korean Christian Federation in North Korea with which the WCC has developed long term dialogue and relationships.

The WCC is scheduled to celebrate its 10th Assembly in the South Korean city of Busan from 30 October to 8 November this year. The assembly is held once every seven years and brings together Christians from around the world in one of the most diverse gathering of churches.

“We have no plans to have our assembly anywhere else but in Busan,” Tveit said. “The theme of the assembly is ‘God of life, lead us to justice and peace.’ It is now that the Korean peninsula needs a message of justice and peace.” Read the rest of this entry »

South Korea’s National Council of Churches issues Prayers for Peace

[The National Council of Churches in Korea (South) held an emergency prayer for peace on 5 April 2013. After discussing the urgent crisis on the Korean peninsula, the NCCK released this “Urgent Petition for peace on the Korean Peninsula”. –CanKor]

NCCK logoPraying for the peace of God and in the name of the Lord:

The interruption of the work at the joint South and North Korean Industrial Complex in Gaesung is just another sign of the crisis actual arising on the Korean Peninsula. The South-Korean/U.S. American military exercises are aggravating the situation and thus the conflict is rapidly approaching the next stage of danger of a confrontation between South and North Korean military forces. North Korea’s third nuclear test, the UN’s violent propagandistic sanctions towards North Korea and the American high-tech weapons being used in the large scale Korean-American joint military exercises, etc. escalate the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. In these circumstances, the irresponsible, alarming and offensive statements of both South and North Korean authorities’ are driving the citizens of both countries into fear. The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), which for a long time has desired the nation’s reconciliation, and longs for peace and reunification, opposes the movement toward this catastrophic situation and cannot suppress a severe anxiety. We call on all Korean churches which are striving for justice, and all Christian believers who are striving to make peace and become guardians of history, at this time to hold firmly a responsible attitude to this issue. In the following petition we express the earnest prayers of Korean Christians for peace on the Korean Peninsula and humbly ask for your participation. Read the rest of this entry »

PROK Statement on the Current Situation

[The Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) on 13 March 2013 issued the following “Statement on the Current Situation in the Korean Peninsula in view of the Joint US-ROK Military Exercises and Threats of War between North and South Korea.” The original text can be accessed here. –CanKor]

Stop the threats of war, without any conditions, begin dialogue and negotiations!

“God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4).

Logo PROKWe, in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea confess our faith in the God of peace and have been working and praying for reconciliation and reunification of the North and South Korea and peace in the entire Korean Peninsula. We offered our earnest prayers especially in this Lenten Pilgrimage carrying with us the concerns of the suffering of the people, justice, peace and abundant life in the Korean Peninsula. Yet, in spite of our earnest prayers, the North and the South are heading toward precarious armed confrontation.

In view of the recent Joint United States-Republic of Korea Military Exercises which began on March 11 dubbed, ‘Key Resolve’, the North pushed to invalidate the Armistice Agreement signed in Panmunjeom in 1953, shut down telephone communication lines with the South. The confrontational exchange of words and propaganda between the North and South is just short of outbreak of armed conflict that may happen anytime in the Korean Peninsula, creating a very volatile situation. In this kind of situation we are mourning and in remorse like the prophet Jeremiah whose heart was broken and his bones tremble.

Weapons of war and destruction and the ongoing military exercises will not bring about safety and peace in the Korean Peninsula. Read the rest of this entry »

Will Seoul engage North Korea soon? by Chung Min-uck

[Korea Times correspondent Chung Min-uck interviews CanKor Brain Trust member Victor Hsu, Director of International Aid and Education at the South Korean state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI), and Bernhard Seliger, a Seoul resident representative of the Hanns Seidel Foundation, a German organization active in Korea. The two experts applaud the new South Korean President’s “trustpolitik”, and point out that the Park Geun-hye government still has opportunities to carry out a fundamental shift from the current ever-escalating inter-Korean tension. –CanKor]

Trucks loaded with flour as relief aid to North Korea pass a checkpoint on a bridge over the Imjin River in the South Korean border city of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, in this Sept. 21, 2012, file photo. The Seoul government sent 500 tons of flour to the impoverished North in one of the lastest aid supplies under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration. (Photo by Korea Times)

Trucks loaded with flour as relief aid to North Korea pass a checkpoint on a bridge over the Imjin River in the South Korean border city of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, in this Sept. 21, 2012, file photo. The Seoul government sent 500 tons of flour to the impoverished North in one of the lastest aid supplies under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration. (Photo by Korea Times)

The government last week approved a shipment of humanitarian aid to North Korea, the first aid package approved under President Park Geun-hye, who took office on Feb. 25.

Under the approval, the Eugene Bell Foundation, a South Korean charity group, will ship tuberculosis medicine worth 678 million won (US $605,454) to eight tuberculosis clinics run by the South Korean group in North Korea as early as next month.

The latest gesture comes at a time when inter-Korean relations have hit rock bottom with the North threatening to use its nuclear weapons against South Korea and the United States, and in response, the two allies’ militaries signing a combined operational plan to raise deterrence against possible military threats by the North.

Although the unification ministry denied any political implications to the latest aid approval, referring to the move as being for “strictly humanitarian purposes,” foreign experts say such a symbolic gesture will help improve ties with the North.

“The amount is so little given the nature of the disease. It is a drop in the bucket,” said Victor Hsu, director of International Aid and Education at the state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI). “But the symbolic meaning I think is important. The symbolism of allowing the Eugene Bell Foundation to implement (aid shipments) is constructive in re-building inter-Korean relations.” Read the rest of this entry »

Victor Hsu: “Separate humanitarian issue from politics”

[CanKor Brain Trust member Prof Victor Hsu was interviewed by The Korea Times correspondent Chung Min-uck on 25 March 2013. –CanKor]

Victor Hsu of Korea Development Institute (Photo by The Korea Times)

Victor Hsu of Korea Development Institute (Photo by The Korea Times)

Victor Hsu, 63, director of International Aid and Education at the state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI), believes humanitarian aid should be given to North Korea regardless of the political situation.

“Humanitarian aid should be separate from political considerations,” Hsu said in an interview with The Korea Times. “The humanitarian principle suggests that one must give assistance because there is need, and a human being is suffering or ill. So, the humanitarian imperative should be foremost.”

“Coming from the NGO community, I would like to emphasize that very strongly,” he added.

The KDI professor worked for World Vision International from 2005 to 2010, providing humanitarian aid to North Korea.

He was the national director for North Korea, overseeing various types of aid given to the isolated nation. Hsu was also with the U.S. National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, and visited the North numerous times during his career, since the 1980s. Read the rest of this entry »

Update on First Steps activities, by Susan Ritchie

[First Steps is a Vancouver-based Christian development organization whose primary purpose is preventing child malnutrition in North Korea through programs that provide essential nutrients to young children. Its founding director Susan Ritchie recently returned from a visit to the DPRK and sent us this report. For more on First Steps and Ms Ritchie, see the Chosun Ilbo article “Canadian Who Became ‘Mother’ to N.Korean Orphans”. –CanKor]

First Steps founding director Susan Ritchie explains her charity's activities in North Korea while showing a picture taken in a factory she visited there. (Photo by Chosun Ilbo)

First Steps founding director Susan Ritchie explains her charity’s activities in North Korea while showing a picture taken in a factory she visited there. (Photo by Chosun Ilbo)

First Steps currently has two programs. First Steps’ soymilk program is currently reaching more than 90,000 children with a daily cup of soymilk. The micro -nutrient Sprinkles program is reaching approx. 70,000 pregnant women and babies from 6 – 24 months. Sprinkles prevent anemia and reduce morbidity (for example, deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia as well as rickets, etc.). As in-kind donations are becoming more available we are increasingly able to engage in relief work when there is a need.

We are shipping 3 larger food processing units to Wonsan in the coming weeks and expect that the total number of FS soymilk beneficiaries will soon exceed 100,000 children. The FS soymilk plants are working exceptionally well in the cities, counties and farms where we work. The food processing equipment that we send is a good fit for NK. Last year we shipped 280 metric tonnes of soybeans to supplement the local supply. We currently have 75 tonnes of soys en route.

I mentioned Deokchon in our last newsletter. It’s a city of 250,000 people, almost all of whom are engaged in mining coal (400 metres underground) or relevant activities to feed the coal plant in Pyongyang. We first visited the area after they had suffered a landside that took 46 lives and left more than 8,000 people homeless last summer. We partnered with ShelterBox to send in tents and then we sent in a 20′ container of relief foods for the children. Last week we visited the city again to confirm the arrival of the food, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

World Council of Churches statement on DPRK nuclear test

[The following statement by World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit was issued on 15 February 2013. According to its self-description, the WCC comprises 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians and including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. –CanKor]

Statement by the WCC general secretary on resolving the rising tensions over the Korean Peninsula

oikoumene_logo_colourThe World Council of Churches (WCC) is gravely concerned at the test of another nuclear device on the Korean peninsula this week and at responses which deepen, rather than address, the long-standing tensions in the region.

The nuclear test in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a destabilizing action in a fragile region. So far, the main responses risk tipping the region into greater crisis. The current situation demonstrates an urgent need for the members of the Six-Party Talks, the six governments most responsible for peace and human security in Northeast Asia, to return to their own earlier path of negotiations and confidence-building. Read the rest of this entry »

I Thought Groundhog Day was Last Week

So North Korea continues its streak as the only country that has tested a nuclear weapon in the past fifteen years.

The official English statement that was released by KCNA is interesting for two reasons. The first is that Pyongyang elegantly stated that the weapon that it tested yesterday was a smaller version (“miniaturized” per the Korean language version) of the weapons that were tested in 2006 and 2009. This of course is a thinly veiled statement directed towards those worried about the DPRK building a bomb that could fit snugly on top of a Taepodong rocket. Pyongyang’s answer is “si, su puede.”

The other interesting part of the statement is North Korea’s claim that its nuclear deterrent has become “diversified.” The most orthodox interpretation of this is that North Korea now possesses a bomb different from those that it tested earlier: namely, one of the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) variety. This would be alarming in many respects: it means that the DPRK has, despite the myriad of sanctions lodged against it, acquired this technology. It means that the DPRK, with this technology, can continue to produce HEU type weapons en masse: since if there’s anything that’s remotely abundant in North Korea, it’s uranium. It also means that there has been some sort of cooperation between the DPRK and someone, whether it be China, or Pakistan, or Iran. Read the rest of this entry »

A Monk’s Earthly Mission: Easing North Koreans’ Pain, by Choe Sang-Hun

[I have known the Ven. Pomnyun for more than a dozen years. We meet infrequently on my trips to Seoul. He is one of the rare people who has made the transition from human rights struggles in South Korea to human rights struggles for the North Korean people. He is also one of the rare examples of a human rights-minded activist who sees human rights as much more than civil and political rights. For Pomnyun and the “Good Friends” organization that he founded, the current price of rice in North Korea’s markets is as important as the current number of prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps. Economic, social and cultural rights occupy a large part of his agenda, which also means that Pomnyun has tirelessly promoted humanitarian assistance to North Korea, despite concerns about monitoring its distribution. Although the information collected by his organization is not always the most reliable, it does provide informal and localized indicators of change, for example in the food supply of villages and counties outside urban areas. We were pleased to see this article about Pomnyun, authored by Choe Sang-Hun, in the New York Times on 27 April 2012, and offer it here for our readers. –EW, CanKor]

South Korean Buddhist monk Venerable Pomnyun in his office at Peace Foundation in Seoul. (Photo by Woohae Cho, The International Herald Tribune)

In August 1996, the Venerable Pomnyun, a Buddhist monk from South Korea, was cruising down the Yalu River between China and North Korea when he saw a boy squatting alone at the North Korean edge of the water. The boy was in rags, his gaunt face covered in dirt.

Pomnyun shouted to him, but the boy did not respond. Pomnyun’s Chinese companion explained that North Korean children were instructed never to beg from foreigners. And when Pomnyun asked if the boat could be steered closer to the child to bring help, he was reminded that they could not enter North Korean territory.

“Never before had I realized the meaning of a border so painfully until that day,” said Pomnyun, 59. “Never before had I felt so acutely that Korea is a divided nation.” Read the rest of this entry »

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