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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A U.S. Christian aid organization received a humanitarian exemption from the UN earlier this month to work on clean drinking water project in North Korea, according to the UN Security Council 1718 sanctions committee.
In a letter dated April 4 but only released publicly in recent days, the UN committee granted an exemption for a project by the Love North Korea Ministries (LNKM) organization “aimed at improving access to clean drinking water in the Rason region.”
As part of the exemption, LNKM will have six months to bring items otherwise prohibited from export to North Korea into Rason, located at the northeastern-most tip of the country,
These include steel casing for water wells, metal tools, and submersible well pumps.
According to the exemption letter, LNKM will source most of its items from two Chinese companies, but is also authorized to purchase rope, wire, and other miscellaneous supplies through local markets in the Rason SEZ.
LNKM’s request for the exemption was sent to the committee on March 23, the letter said.
The decision marks the 20th humanitarian exemption from the 1718 Sanctions Committee this year, following efforts that began at the end of 2018 to reform a process that many organizations saw as overly restrictive towards humanitarian aid efforts in North Korea.
Founder of LNKM Gabe Segoine is best known for hosting surf camps in North Korea, but has otherwise worked in the country on projects to secure heating coal, clean drinking water, powerless lanterns, medicine, and other aid items since 2008.
The first surf camp in 2014 was organized by LNKM and Surfing The Nations (STN) and facilitated by North Korea’s Korea International Travel Company (KITC), and was inspired by Segoine’s ongoing work in the country and his longtime love of surfing.
Speaking to NK News in 2014, he said that “as a surfer/bodyboarder, I’d always wanted to catch waves there. In doing NGO work inside, I was able to see the potential for surfing first hand.”
The camp involved a mix of visiting surfers from foreign countries and local North Koreans at a beach in Wonsan, where Segoine left a number of boards and other equipment “to leave the people fully equipped to continue surfing after we departed,” he said.
Segoine promotes the sports exchanges – which have also included skateboarding, skimboarding and snowboarding events – as a form of cultural diplomacy between North Korea and the U.S.
Writing for Medium last August, Segoine said he asked his guide following that first camp “if he remembered how in the seventies the United States and China used ping-pong as a diplomacy tool to normalize relations.”
“He said he did. I suggested we should use ‘surfing diplomacy’ between his country and mine to help bring peace. Without pausing, he looked at me and said ‘We must do it,’” Segoine wrote.
The LNKM founder said that “sanctions and other outside pressure cannot produce improved relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world,” and instead advocates for increased aid and exchanges.
Segoine has also advocated for the repeal of the U.S.’s ongoing ban on its citizens traveling to North Korea, which has prevented him from running further such sports exchanges in the time since its implementation in September 2017.
The LNKM website describes the organization as “working for beneficial development in DPRK North Korea and a new United Korean Peninsula.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Love North Korea Ministries