The UN human rights envoy for North Korea warned on Friday that the regime, which attacked a South Korean island this week, is isolating itself at a time when it badly needs humanitarian aid.
Marzuki Darusman was on his first mission to South Korea since taking the post this year but, like his predecessor, was denied entry to the country formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
"The DPRK should not find itself in isolation at a juncture when it needs the support and cooperation of the international community the most, both to address the human rights situation and the humanitarian needs," he said.
Darusman was speaking days after the volatile regime fired a deadly barrage of shells and rockets at a South Korean island near the disputed sea border, claiming it had acted in retaliation to a military exercise being staged there.
The UN envoy noted that, after devastating floods hit the North in August, South Korea had offered 5,000 tons of rice and 250,000 bags of cement in humanitarian aid for victims in the impoverished country.
All such aid shipments have been frozen since the North launched its strike on the island of Yeonpyeong, which killed two marines and two civilians and wounding 18 other people.
It was the first shelling of civilians since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Darusman said that despite the outbreak of hostilities, "it is important to continue to provide such humanitarian assistance", while ensuring that all aid distribution "reaches the neediest population".
He said hardship in North Korea had driven 20,000 people to flee to the South -- including a record 2,027 arrivals last year -- on journeys during which many fall victim to people-traffickers and sexual abuse.