Red Cross chief heads to North and South Korea

The head of the Swiss-based Red Cross has begun a rare official visit to both North and South Korea, pledging to strengthen the organization's humanitarian assistance and cooperation with the countries.

Red Cross chief heads to North and South Korea
Red Cross chief Peter Maurer. Photo: ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its president Peter Maurer arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday to begin the first official visit to both Koreas by the head of the organization in 21 years.
The visit, which comes 60 years after the never formalised armistice that ended the Korean War, "is an opportunity to reaffirm the ICRC's readiness to help resolve humanitarian issues on the Korean peninsula," Maurer said in a statement.
"It also reflects our wish to broaden our exchanges and cooperation with both countries," he added.
Maurer was set to discuss a range of humanitarian topics with senior government and Red Cross officials in both countries, including "the plight of the thousands of family members who remain separated by the Korean War, many years after the cessation of active hostilities."
The head of the ICRC, which has had a permanent presence in North Korea for more than a decade, was also set to discuss how to further develop a physical rehabilitation centre in Pyongyang and four provincial hospitals that the organization already supports in the country.
Maurer is scheduled to stay in North Korea until Friday, when he will travel to Beijing to attend the award ceremony of the Florence Nightingale Medal for "exceptionally qualified nurses," before flying on to Seoul for a two-day visit.
The visit to South Korea comes as the ICRC aims to establish a permanent presence in the country.

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South Sudan civil war victims face famine

Tens of thousands of people forced to flee violence in South Sudan could go hungry, with fighting interrupting the planting season and cutting off supply chains, the Geneva-based Red Cross warned Monday.

South Sudan civil war victims face famine
Photo: Julius Kusuma

Civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, when president Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup.
Most recently civilians have been uprooted from the opposition-held town of Leer, in an oil-rich part of Unity State, and from Kodok in Upper Nile State, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
It cautioned that hostilities could sever escape routes, and said it feared civilians could suffer from a lack of food and health care while on the run.
In addition, the displacement from Leer, including of many people already uprooted by fighting in Unity state a year ago, “comes just as the country's crucial planting period is under way,” ICRC said in a statement.
“The upheaval will no doubt negatively impact residents' ability to plant food that would be used to feed their families next harvest season,” it said.
The fighting had also forced the ICRC to halt its regular activities and reduce its staff in Leer, where the organization has one of its largest food
distributions in the world.
“Prolonged displacement exposes people to suffering. We fear that the situation of some 100,000 people in Leer, who are now hiding in unimaginably difficult conditions, will worsen day by day,” said Franz Rauchenstein, who heads the ICRC's delegation in South Sudan.
“The ICRC must be able to access these communities. We call upon all involved in the fighting to facilitate the lifesaving work of Red Cross workers,” he added.
The fighting in the world's newest country, which only gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been characterized by ethnically-driven massacres, rape and attacks on civilians and medical facilities.
The violence, which has escalated into an ethnic conflict involving multiple armed groups, has killed tens of thousands of people.
ICRC said Monday that intensified shelling in the area of Kodok town was endangering the lives of patients at a hospital it supports there, and said
that although the hospital remained open, it had moved its nearby operational base to Oriny.
It reminded all parties involved in the fighting that civilians and medical facilities cannot be targeted, according to international law.
“The more fighting in South Sudan expands, the more . . . the vulnerable will suffer, whether from the risk of sexual violence, a lack of food and medicine or forced conscription of the young,” ICRC said, stressing that using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is a war crime.