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Call for easing of North Korea sanctions

Nik MartinMay 7, 2016

During a week-long trip, three renowned scientists have seen for themselves the impact of international sanctions on North Korea. They say the quality of medical care and academic research has been weakened.

Nobel laureates in Beijing
Image: Reuters/J.Lee

Nobel medicine prize winner Richard Roberts, Nobel economics prize winner Finn Kydland and Nobel chemistry prize winner Aaron Ciechanover have described how United Nations sanctions and a lack of internet access are hampering North Korean scientists.

Speaking to reporters following their visit to Pyongyang, the three laureates from Norway, Britain and Israel called for a rollback of many of the international restrictions that have been placed on the Communist state.

"You don't pressurize via making people sicker," said Ciechanover: "That's not the right way to go."

Roberts described how North Korean academic institutions suffered from a lack of modern scientific equipment. He said restrictions on internet use prevented most scientists from collaborating with colleagues in other countries, or accessing the latest scientific literature.

Kim Jong Un
North Korea's leader is defiant despite new sanctionsImage: Reuters/KCNA

"So this embargo is really hurting the scientists in some major ways, and I think that's a great shame," Roberts added.

He said there was a strong desire for more international exchanges. During the trip, at least two North Korean students were invited to the West.

The Western scientists visited hospitals, universities and research institutes in Pyongyang and met with students and academics. They described clean and modern facilities - a stark contrast to other accounts, which describe the country as brutally impoverished.

The trip, which has been described as an exercise in "silent diplomacy," was planned more than two years ago with help from the International Peace Foundation (IPF). In turn the Vienna-based organization received an unsolicited email from the Korean National Peace Committee.

The visit coincided with the start of the congress of the ruling North Korean Workers' Party, the first in 36 years. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to be bestowed with the country's top title during the conference.

The scientists insisted that they had no contact with the country's top leadership.

Earlier this year, the UN tightened sanctions on North Korea after Pyongyang carried out several ballistic missile launches and its fourth nuclear bomb test.

On Saturday, US observers said they believed Pyongyang was planning another nuclear test.

Harsh new sanctions against North Korea

mm/jm (AFP, AP)