U.N. alarmed by N.Korea crisis, but aid staff still working

UNITED NATIONS Sat Apr 6, 2013 12:50am IST

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gestures during a news conference in Andorra, April 2, 2013. REUTERS/Albert Gea

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gestures during a news conference in Andorra, April 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Albert Gea

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is deeply alarmed at the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, though United Nations humanitarian workers remain active across North Korea for the time being, a spokesman said on Friday.

"U.N. staff in the DPRK (North Korea) remain engaged in their humanitarian and developmental work throughout the country," said U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky. "The secretary-general remains deeply concerned about escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula."

The United Nations has 36 international staff and 21 locally recruited personnel working for seven different agencies and programs in that country, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Nesirky said U.N. officials were at a meeting on Friday in Pyongyang during which North Korean officials asked foreign diplomats to consider moving staff out of their embassies and warned they could not guarantee their safety after April 10.

"The United Nations is studying the message and the United Nations will respond as appropriate," he said.

The North Korean message comes on the heels of declarations by the government of the secretive communist state that conflict is inevitable because of what it terms "hostile" U.S. troop exercises with South Korea and U.N. sanctions imposed over North Korea's nuclear weapons testing.

"There is a general need for things to calm down, for the volume to be turned down," Nesirky said in a conference broadcast in New York.

"It is really incumbent on the DPRK authorities to reduce the tension," he said. "It is after all the DPRK authorities that have made a number of statements in the recent days and indeed weeks that the secretary-general and others have said are alarming."

North Koreans suffer from chronic poverty and widespread hunger, U.N. officials say.

(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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