NCC/CWS Consultation Takes Steps to Address Korea Crisis

Apr 15, 2003 02:38 AM EDT

CHICAGO - U.S. and Korean churches are building on their longstanding relationship to launch a new effort to address the burgeoning political and humanitarian crisis on the Korean peninsula, related to the recent breakdown in dialogue between the United States and North Korea and the escalation in war rhetoric.

Friday (April 11) in Chicago, the top executives of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Church World Service (CWS) convened an urgent meeting with representatives of member churches to outline a common advocacy strategy on U.S. Korea policy.

They began to lay plans for a consultation in Washington, D.C., with North and South Korean church leaders, proposed for June 2003, and for a U.S. ecumenical delegation visit to North and South Korea later this year. And they resolved to continue humanitarian assistance to the millions of North Koreans whose survival depends on external food aid.

Our partners in Korea have urged us to work with them to find ways to lower tensions and to stave off the potential of a greater humanitarian crisis, said the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director of Church World Service, New York City, and a United Methodist. We believe that there is an imperative for a diplomatic resolution to these issues, he said, expressing CWS opposition to Washington's apparent new pre-emptive strike policy.

Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, New York City, also a United Methodist, encouraged consultation participants to also be thinking about how our response to the pending crisis on the Korean Peninsula relates to an overall U.S. foreign policy. My fear is that we're going to find ourselves in a very violent century if we don't find a way to live as brothers and sisters with one another.

In Friday's consultation, participants agreed on the need to address the United States' confrontational policy toward North Korea and refusal to engage in direct talks with North Korea. The current political impasse must be resolved by peaceful means and not military means, and the United States should not use food as a weapon, they agreed.

The growing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea (DPRK) have severely disrupted the political climate conducive to continued improvement in inter-Korean talks and the flow of urgently needed humanitarian food aid, the Rev. McCullough said. Humanitarian workers in the field say that halting humanitarian aid to North Korea will not break this political stalemate; rather, it will leave millions of people in a situation where they could easily slip back into a state of crisis.

According to the World Food Program, North Korea will need about two million metric tons of grain - a subsistence ration of about half a pound of grain per adult per day -- from external sources, purchased or donated, in 2003. In February, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced an initial U.S. contribution of 40,000 tons of commodities, adding that a further 60,000 tons would be made available if improvements in the World Food Program's ability to access the needy and monitor distributions are allowed.

The situation this year is certainly grave given that the international community will be able to bring in at most 250,000 metric tons, leaving the country short by 1.75 million metric tons, said Victor W.C. Hsu, Senior Advisor to the CWS Executive Director, New York City, and a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). North Korea does not have at its disposal the foreign currency to buy and import the deficit amount, he said.

Church World Service, the global humanitarian agency of the NCC's 36 member denominations, has provided $4,250,029 in food aid to North Korea since the outbreak of the food crisis in 1996, and has played a leadership role in InterAction in encouraging humanitarian assistance to the famine-stricken DPRK.

In March 2003, CWS sent 660 metric tons (1.5 million pounds) of fortified wheat flour to North Korea in response to a direct appeal from the World Food Program. Mr. Hsu spent April 1-5 in North Korea monitoring delivery of the flour. He visited seven of the 20 beneficiary institutions, which serve two especially vulnerable groups: children under age seven and pregnant and nursing mothers.

The Koreans kept asking me, When is the next shipment? Mr. Hsu said. They are in need of all sorts of aid, whether it's medicine or food. The need is massive.

Regular visits by U.S. denominational and ecumenical leaders to the DPRK since 1985 and return visits by church leaders from both North and South Korea provide an indication of their significant ecumenical commitment to advocacy for peace and justice on the Korean peninsula and their pioneering role in opening ecumenical and political relationships with North Korea.

The consultation in Washington, D.C., among church leaders from the United States, North and South Korea - proposed for June 16-20,2003 - would be the first since 1997 and would include advocacy with U.S. policy makers. The primary Korean partners would be the National Council of Churches of Korea (South Korea), the Korean Christians Federation (North Korea) and the Korean Church Women United.

The proposed CWS/NCC ecumenical delegation visit to North and South Korea later in 2003 would continue the dialogue and common advocacy and would include delivery of humanitarian assistance to North Korea.

The 17 participants in the April 11 planning meeting included representatives of several denominations active on Korea issues, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., and Church of the Brethren. A program officer for International Orthodox Christian Charities, Inc., also attended.

By Albert H. Lee
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