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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
France has secured two humanitarian exemptions for the delivery of goods to North Korea on behalf of two NGOs currently engaged in in-country operations, a UN Committee website showed on Thursday.
Two new letters, uploaded on the website of the UN Security Council (UNSC) 1718 Committee, detail approvals issued to Handicap International and French NGO Première Urgence Internationale, which went into effect on January 29 and 30 respectively.
Handicap International, which already received one exemption from the 1718 Committee on January 25, received approval for shipments related to mobility devices and shelter refurbishment material. It also includes goods for a “Self Help Group” for persons with disabilities.
“All these material will be used to establish Self-Help Group of persons with disabilities for income generating activities in 3 areas of North Pyongan and S. Hamgyong Province,” the letter read.
“Equipment and material will be used by persons with disabilities for their income generating activities under supervision of Project officer and Project coordinator of Handicap International.”
“The Committee further supports and approves France engaging in necessary business and financial transactions only for the purchase of goods and services exempted by the Committee and found in the attachment without prejudice to the relevant commercial decisions,” both letters said.
According to the annex provided with the exemption notification, the total cost of the humanitarian goods amount to 233,362 euros.
The exemption issued to Première Urgence was to allow “the import of items” related to three humanitarian projects located in South Hwanghae province.
The projects focus on improving nutrition for children, enhancing food production knowledge, and increasing the diversity of foods in nurseries and kindergartens as a response to the continued food crisis in the country.
The exemption, however, was not accompanied by a list of goods at the time of publication.
The two exemptions bring the total number of 1718 approvals in January to ten and reflect an effort to clear a backlog of exemptions which had persisted throughout 2018.
In 2017, NGOs and humanitarian-focused organizations in the country encountered significant barriers to continuing normal operations as tensions increased and the sanctions regime against the DPRK expanded.
Despite sustained diplomatic engagement between North Korea and the U.S. in 2018, operations were still reported to be heavily impacted by these conditions.
The increase in approvals issued this year is likely a direct result of Washington shifting its policy towards humanitarian engagement with North Korea.
In December last year, Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun announced that the U.S. State Department would be reviewing its approach towards the subject.
During a subsequent January meeting with NGOs and others — reported on by NK News at the time — Biegun acknowledged the backlog and added that the U.S. would be seeking to expedite the exemptions process.
UNICEF, the Eugene Bell Foundation (EBF), Christian Friends of Korea (CFK), First Steps Health Society, Swiss Humanitarian Aid, World Vision and the IFRC also received exemptions in January.
Edited by Oliver Hotham