(ATTN: ADDS minister’s remarks in last 2 paras)
SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) — North Korea has opened a key sea route on the western coast to receive humanitarian aid deliveries following its closure attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, a United Nations agency official said Friday.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has begun shipping medical supplies from the Chinese port of Dalian to North Korea’s Nampo and plans to deliver more items, according to its Seoul office.
“The sea route from China’s Dalian to Nampo has been opened,” Oren Schlein, the head of the Seoul liaison office for UNICEF, said during a peace forum held in Incheon, west of Seoul. “Some medical supplies have been shipped (to North Korea), and more will be delivered.”
North Korea has tightened border controls since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, closing sea and land routes for key materials and medical supplies sent by U.N. agencies and other humanitarian groups.
Marian Yun, a senior policy advisor at World Food Program, another U.N. agency in charge of food aid, said Pyongyang needs to ease its border restrictions to receive crucial aid to address its food shortage.
“The WFP’s food stockpile in North Korea has already run out this year,” Yun said. “The most important factor in North Korea’s food situation is whether or not its government approves the deliveries of humanitarian aid.”
Last week, the World Health Organization said it has begun the shipment of COVID-19 medical supplies to North Korea through Dalian, raising the possibility that the reclusive state might be easing its long-enforced tight border controls amid the global pandemic.
Pyongyang has claimed to be coronavirus-free and rejected outside help for its anti-epidemic campaign for fear that any shipment could spread the virus to its soil.
Unification Minister Lee In-young reaffirmed Seoul’s commitment to continued efforts for lasting peace on the peninsula in a video message delivered to the forum.
“Through the end-of-war declaration, (we) will finally end the war on the Korean Peninsula, and efforts for denuclearization and permanent peace will not be stopped,” he said, referring to President Moon Jae-in’s proposal to declare a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War.