For Fr Hammond, Olympic Games could be an opportunity for peace in Korea

The PyeongChang Olympics is a first step for new talks. Sanctions weigh on North Koreans. Years of work on food security are at risk. Suffering should be alleviated as much as possible. For clergyman, “Little by little to move forward with also the hope that we can provide more humanitarian aid more freely."

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The PyeongChang Olympic Games have created a “hopeful thread” for “more peace in the peninsula,” said Fr Gerard Hammond, regional superior of the Maryknoll missionaries in Korea.

The clergyman spoke about renewed talks between the two countries and the suffering of the North Koreans under harsher international sanctions.

In his view, the latter, “are gradually having an impact, but rather than hurting the regime, the North Korean government or Kim Jong-un, the brunt of the sanctions is primarily felt by the ordinary North Korean people”.

What is more, “I fear that importing food will become another issue. The majority of the twenty-four million North Koreans will suffer. The gains and progresses made in years in terms of food security and organisation will fade away. But still, we have to continue, doing the best we can to help alleviate more suffering.

The NGO with which he Fr Hammond works, the Eugene Bell Foundation, has plans to ship aid for tuberculosis patients between 30 April and 22 May.

However, the American missionary needs a new passport from the US State Department for every trip to North. " You never know whether you can go or not. That's the sad part."

Recently, the Foundation called on South Korean authorities to put pressure on the United Nations Security Council to ensure that tuberculosis drugs are exempted from the embargo.

Indeed, for him, there is also great hope. "Because of the Games, there seems to be a new thread – or new words – more hopeful that there will be more peace in the peninsula.”

“In fact, the games are called the ‘Peace’ Olympic games because at least the North and the South are meeting and hopefully a more serious dialogue will take place.”

“Certainly, that is the wish of anybody who recently had contact with the North. With any luck, new methods and ways of contacting and thrust will be available. Trust is important to have dialogue. I hope the Games will bring that out."

Noting that some families have been still divided since the Korean War, the clergyman said he hopes that new talks will create more opportunities for people to meet relatives before they die. This would be very helpful.

"This is a good opportunity to begin something: Little by little to move forward with also the hope that we can provide more humanitarian aid more freely."