Red Cross chief visits N. Korea, pledges humanitarian aid

The Red Cross said Tuesday its president had begun a rare official visit to both North and South Korea, pledging to strengthen the organisation's humanitarian assistance and cooperation with the countries.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its president Peter Maurer arrived in Pyongyang Tuesday to begin the first official visit to both Koreas by the head of the organisation in 21 years.

The visit, which comes 60 years after the never formalised armistice that ended the Korean War, "is an opportunity to reaffirm the ICRC's readiness to help resolve humanitarian issues on the Korean peninsula," Maurer said in a statement.

"It also reflects our wish to broaden our exchanges and cooperation with both countries," he added.

Maurer was set to discuss a range of humanitarian topics with senior government and Red Cross officials in both countries, including "the plight of the thousands of family members who remain separated by the Korean War, many years after the cessation of active hostilities."

The head of the ICRC, which has had a permanent presence in North Korea for more than a decade, was also set to discuss how to further develop a physical rehabilitation centre in Pyongyang and four provincial hospitals that the organisation already supports in the country.

Maurer is scheduled to stay in North Korea until Friday, when he will travel to Beijing to attend the award ceremony of the Florence Nightingale Medal for "exceptionally qualified nurses," before flying on to Seoul for a two-day visit.

The visit to South Korea comes as the ICRC aims to establish a permanent presence in the country.