SEOUL — North Korea has expelled the country director of Welthungerhilfe, one of the few foreign aid groups to operate in the isolated country, the German organization told Reuters on Thursday.
A devastating famine in the 1990s left hundreds of thousands of North Koreans dead or dying from starvation. The food situation has improved since, but Pyongyang still relies on support from foreign aid organizations.
Without warning or saying why, North Korea asked Welthungerhilfe country director Regina Feindt to leave the country in late February, the non-government body said in a statement.
Feindt’s colleague Karl Fall, who had worked in the country for 12 years, left of his own volition the next month, it said.
“Welthungerhilfe does not see anything in Mrs Feindt’s behavior that would have justified an expulsion,” it said in the statement.
It said Feindt left North Korea on Feb 26 and that Fall left on March 19. Feindt and Fall were not available to comment, Welthungerhilfe said.
The abrupt departures came as a surprise to members of the small foreign community in Pyongyang, according to a regular visitor to the North Korean capital who wished to remain anonymous, citing the sensitive nature of working there.
Welthungerhilfe would not comment on the events leading up to Feindt’s deportation.
“We don’t know why this has happened,” spokeswoman Simone Pott told Reuters by telephone.
The NGO is one of a handful of foreign aid groups to operate within the isolated country.
Welthungerhilfe, whose name means “World Hunger Aid”, is one of Germany’s largest non-governmental aid organizations and has been working in North Korea since 1997, spending more than 60 million euros (US$65 million) on projects designed to improve food, sanitation and water supply.
The NGO, previously known as German Agro Action, still has a skeleton presence in North Korea, despite the expulsion of its country director. According to its statement, activities to improve water and sewage systems in cities were unaffected.
“At the moment we are in discussions with the North Korean authorities to secure a basis for continuing our development work in the country for the benefit of the people of North Korea,” the group said in the statement.