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Ecumenical leaders visit North Korea


NEW YORK (UMNS) - A seven-member U.S. ecumenical delegation is calling for action regarding the political and humanitarian crisis on the Korean peninsula.

Led by the Rev. Robert Edgar, chief executive of the National Council of Churches, and the Rev. John McCullough, executive director of Church World Service, the delegation visited North Korea Nov. 11-15 as the culmination of a yearlong initiative by the two organizations. Both Edgar and McCullough are United Methodist pastors.

The Korean Christian Federation, a longstanding ecumenical partner based in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, hosted the delegation. After the visit, the U.S. representatives attended a specially convened National Council of Churches in Korea Assembly and an interfaith peace conference, both in Seoul, South Korea.

In response to a U.S. State Department invitation, delegation members will discuss their trip with Assistant Secretary James Kelley on Nov. 26.

In a statement following the North Korea visit, the delegation called upon member denominations to encourage their congregations to advocate, particularly with Congress and the Bush administration, for the peaceful reunification of Korea. It also asked the ecumenical community to continue to nurture ties with the Christian community on the Korean peninsula. All Koreans should be involved in these issues too, the delegation said.

Delegation members said the six-party talks should not only focus on the nuclear issue but also on developing ways to achieve lasting peace between North and South Korea. The two countries have been in a state of war for half a century, despite an armistice that ended combat action in 1953.

"Given that a comprehensive and lasting peace requires international cooperation, we encourage the international community, particularly those countries in the region, to participate as actively as
appropriate," the delegation statement said. "It is our conviction that diplomacy and negotiations remain the best approach for finding durable solutions."

The delegation called for a clear U.S. statement favoring a peaceful resolution to the tensions on the peninsula. The ecumenical leaders urged the Bush administration to pledge not to launch a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, to conclude a non-aggression pact and to move toward a
comprehensive peace.

"In this regard, ending the armistice and replacing it with a peace treaty will help promote a political climate conducive to lasting peace on the peninsula," the statement said.

The ecumenical leaders said they hope the international community will respond generously to the 2004 U.N. appeal for $200 million for North Korea humanitarian assistance. In particular, they urged the Bush administration to "continue the American tradition of generosity and compassion" in regard to the U.N. North Korea Appeal by raising its contribution substantially over the 2003 level.

While the delegation was in North Korea, one of its goals was to monitor the distribution of 420 metric tons (132,000 pounds) of refined wheat flour donated by Church World Service. The ecumenical leaders also toured the Korean Christian Federation's Bongsu Noodle Factory and Bakery, which processes one metric ton of flour daily.

The shipment, which cost nearly $100,000 to deliver, filled seven railway wagons, each carrying 2,400 55-pound bags of flour - enough for some 132,000 loaves of bread. Since the outbreak of the food crisis in 1996, Church World Service has provided nearly $4.5 million in food aid to North Korea.

Other activities included a stop at the Demilitarized Zone at Panmumjom, which separates an estimated 10 million family members on the Korean peninsula; a meeting with Vice Chairman Kim Young Dae of the Supreme People's Assembly, the third-ranking person in the North Korean government; and visits to the Protestant Chigul Church of Pyongyang and a North Korean house church in Pyongyang's Nangnang district.

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The National Council of Churches provided information for this story.

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