First UN review mission on relief funds arrives in NKorea

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A UN mission to assess how aid funds have been used in North Korea has arrived in the country, a spokeswoman told AFP Thursday, marking the first of such visits to the secretive communist state.

"I can confirm that the UN working mission has arrived," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, in response to queries from AFP.

"This mission is the first CERF (central emergency response fund) mission in the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)," she added.

The UN's four-member team had arrived on Friday May 21, but news of their arrival could only be confirmed now due to technical communications problems in North Korea.

The mission was scheduled to meet heads of UN agencies on the ground -- including officials from the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, during the week-long visit ending Friday May 28.

"They have gone to see the UN programmes on the ground, how the funds are utilised and what are the results," said Byrs.

The UN experts are also in North Korea to assess if there is a "possibility of increasing the support of the UN in DPRK in order to help those in need," added Byrs.

The UN has allocated eight million dollars in 2010 in emergency relief funds for North Korea, which has suffered more than two decades of natural disasters.

While some UN agencies have offices in North Korea, visits by UN missions to the secretive communist nation are extremely rare.

In the past months, however, high-level UN officials have been travelling to the country, a sign that Pyongyang may be opening up, a source close to the UN said.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe visited the country in February, and in April UN health agency chief Margaret Chan also made a trip there.

© 2010 AFP

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