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Consultation seeks peace, humanitarian aid in North Korea


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Chaplain Mitchell Lewis conducts a worship service in the desert for soldiers of the Army's Third Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A UMNS photo courtesy of Chaplain Mitchell Lewis. Photo number 03-409, Accompanies UMNS #327, 11/5/03

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Chaplain Mitchell Lewis conducts a worship service for soldiers of the Third Infantry Division in a maintenance tent in Kuwait before the war with Iraq. A UMNS photo courtesy of Chaplain Mitchell Lewis. Photo number 03-408, Accompanies UMNS #327, 11/5/03

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
United Methodist Chaplain Jerry Sieg, with the Army's Third Infantry Division in Ft. Stewart, Ga., left his wife Karlyn and their four children on Jan. 25 to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Prior to my going, there was assurance I would come back," he says. "All the time I was over there, seeing all the violence going on around me, Psalms 91 the verse 'you will only see it with your eyes but it will not come near you, 'kept coming back to me." A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo number 03-404, Accompanies UMNS #327, 11/5/03
WASHINGTON (UMNS) - Participants in a consultation on the Korean crisis have called for immediate negotiations to find a peaceful solution.

Religious leaders from South Korea and the United States joined with humanitarian workers June 16-18 to seek immediate, international conversation focusing on a nonviolent resolution of the crisis with North Korea - a crisis fueled both by that country's pursuit of nuclear weapons and by the need of its people for humanitarian aid.

"A clear statement from the White House that North Korea will not be attacked will establish a political climate for progress in negotiations," the group said in the consultation's message.

The approximately 80 participants included many staff members of United Methodist Church agencies and those of other denominations.

Hosted by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and Church World Service, a U.S.-based international relief organization related to more than 30 denominations, the event included participation of the Korean National Council of Churches. But the North Korean delegation was prevented from attending when the SARS crisis halted flights to Asian capitals, where the North Koreans had planned to obtain visas to visit the United States.

"We have been concerned that (U.S.) foreign policy has moved from diplomacy to pre-emptive strikes," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC president and a United Methodist, at the conclusion of the consultation.

The people of faith have a vital role to play in concluding a non-aggression pact and speeding humanitarian aid to the people, he asserted, echoing the consultation's statement.

"The military solution is no solution at all!" declared the Rev. Syngman Rhee, a former NCC president and past head of the Presbyterian Church USA. He said this was the collective opinion of the consultation.

Rhee emphasized the consultation was a significant event in 20 years of cooperation on peace and unification issues between the National Council of Churches of Christ USA and the Korean National Council of Churches.

The Rev. Jong-Hwa Park, an officer of the National Council of Churches in Korea, said that South Koreans have been living in an inter-Korean peace that was fragile but much better than an atmosphere of confrontation and hostility. The Koreans' peaceful co-existence is being threatened by the nuclear crisis of North Korea and the pre-emptive attack policy of the United States, he said.

His people desire a nuclear-free Korea, he said. He expressed the hope that a three-way negotiation among North and South Korea and the United States could achieve this goal. The people of both countries do not want a repeat of the Korean War, which devastated the peninsula between 1950 and 1953, he attested.

The Rev. Victor Hsu, a senior adviser with Church World Service and organizer of the consultation, described the "ongoing humanitarian crisis" in North Korea he had seen on a trip there in April.

"I can testify to the deteriorating health (and) malnutrition among the North Korean people," Hsu said.

He noted that Church World Service was among the first to respond in 1995, at the beginning of the current Korean crisis. During this period, the organization with the help of the churches has provided $4.3 million in assistance. With each shipment, a CWS delegation went to North Korea to see the distribution of the relief supplies, he noted.

"The contribution of Church World Service has helped reverse the trend in stunted growth and in wasting among children," Hsu said, referring to a nutrition report issued by UNICEF and the World Food Programme in March.

With his input and that from other participants, and citing reports from United Nations officials, the consultation strongly encouraged the international community and churches to provide health and agricultural assistance to the people of North Korea, and particularly asked the U.S. government to be generous in its aid.

Edgar said the consultation was part of an NCC emphasis on peacemaking that began last year and initially dealt with trying to avert a war in Iraq.

"What we've discovered over the last nine months is that there are two superpowers: One is the United States and the other is world opinion," he said. "Government needs to do its role, but the people of faith need to stand up and do their role" - to cut across boundaries and work for peace and reconciliation.

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