SEOUl, June 13 (UPI) -- A Finnish non-governmental organization has decided to end its humanitarian project in North Korea due to restrictions from international sanctions, after more than two decades of operation in the impoverished country.
Fida International plans to conclude its North Korea program by the end of this month. The project, originally scheduled until 2021, focuses on improving North Korea's food security and health care situation.
"The reason for this exceptional situation is the tightening of international sanctions imposed by the U.S. over the last few months," it said in a statement Monday.
Fida said sanctions impact international banking services, making "financial services related to North Korean projects impossible."
"We are disappointed that the tightening of sanctions has suddenly begun to prevent global humanitarian operations," Fida executive director Harri Hakola said. "Leaving North Korea was a difficult decision for us because there is a great need for aid in the country."
The Finnish government has funded the Fida program since 2001 and granted 300,000 euros (US$339,000) for its project in North Korea this year.
"We are following the situation, and we also hope to be able to return to the country at some point," said Ruut Mononen, the Asian regional director of Fida.
The decision came as concerns are growing over North Korea's severe food shortages, with bad weather and the outbreak of African swine fever further deteriorating the situation.
A recent report by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization said the country's crop output last year hit the lowest level since 2008, with an estimated 10 million people, or about 40 percent of the total population, in urgent need of food.
Humanitarian activities are not banned under international sanctions, but related materials are subject to sanctions waivers from the United Nation.