The shipment of 200,000 doses of anti-flu drug has been held up. Since last September, US humanitarian workers are not allowed to treat North Korean patients. For Fr Gerard Hammond, "The situation is sad and disappointing.” The missionary now has hopes for the second Kim-Trump summit.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – The meticulous application of sanctions against North Korea is causing delays in inter-Korean humanitarian exchanges.
This includes South Korea’s plan to send anti-flu medicine Tamiflu across the border. A shipment has been held up for weeks reportedly because of concern that the means of delivery, the cargo trucks, might be subject to sanctions.
In December, South Korea announced a plan to ship 200,000 doses of Tamiflu to North Korea, but the delivery (initially scheduled for 11 January) has been put off for unclear reasons.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which said it needed more time to prepare, has not explained what is hindering the delivery.
Local media report that Seoul and Washington are discussing how to proceed, even though the vehicles are supposed to return to South Korea after unloading the drugs.
"The situation is sad and disappointing," said Fr Gerard Hammond (pictured), regional superior of the Maryknoll missionaries in Korea, speaking to AsiaNews.
The 85-year-old priest is a member of the Eugene Bell Foundation (EBF), a Christian NGO that has been involved for years in helping some 2,000 tuberculosis patients in North Korea.
"Maryknoll missionaries arrived in Korea in 1923 and our bond with this land is very strong’” Fr Hammond explained. “For the past 20 years, I have travelled to the North more than 50 times. At the moment we feel powerless because these people are so close but we cannot help them."
"Since I have a US passport, I still don’t know whether I will be able to join the EBF delegation, which will visit North Korea between late April and early May.
"Because of last September’s sanctions, the US State Department has not yet issued a second passport to any US citizen. This seriously affects our work: we can send medicines but we cannot take care of new patients.
"Only a small group of workers, not from the United States, can take care of the sick. People with multiple-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) need 18 months and three visits to treat the disease.
"Hopefully, after the second summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald J. Trump, the situation may change.
“Seoul continues to play the role of mediator between the two parties and has shown great overture to the North. Peace, reconciliation and dialogue are essential to create an atmosphere of trust in the Korean peninsula."