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Erich Weingartner first became involved in Korea in 1978. At the time he was Executive Secretary of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) with special responsibility for the World Council of Churches (WCC) human rights programme. On his first trip to Pyongyang in 1985, Erich secured the permission of DPRK authorities for a face-to-face meeting between North and South delegations. In 1986 he arranged the first encounter since the Korean War between delegations of North and South Korean Christians in Glion, Switzerland. In the following five years, he organized three additional international meetings that included delegations from both Koreas.
In May 1997 Erich moved to Pyongyang, where he worked until July 1999 as founding Head of the Food Aid Liaison Unit (FALU), an independent section of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) that programmed and monitored humanitarian assistance donated by non-governmental organizations during what has been dubbed as “the great famine”. He was the first NGO representative (and first Canadian) to achieve resident status in North Korea. During his tenure, FALU assistance topped 100,000 metric tons of food, agricultural and medical inputs, at a value exceeding 30 million US dollars. His work took him by land cruiser to all provinces of the DPRK, where he visited ports, rail yards, warehouses, nurseries, kindergartens, boarding schools, orphanages, hospitals, factories, farms, and also many families in both rural and urban homes.
A graduate of McMaster University and Waterloo Lutheran Seminary (Canada), Erich previously worked as Research Assistant at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, and as Deputy General Secretary of the International Documentation Centre (IDOC) in Rome. As a specialist in human rights and humanitarian assistance, Erich’s work took him to every continent, including armed conflict zones in Lebanon, El Salvador, New Caledonia, the Philippines and Bosnia.