South Korean Roman Catholic delegation arrives in North Korea

A South Korean Roman Catholic delegation left for North Korea on Wednesday on an unprecedented visit to tour aid facilities it has funded in the impoverished country over the last decade, the Archdiocese of Seoul said.

The 61-member delegation departed Seoul via a chartered North Korean flight, said An Sun-young, an official at the Archdiocese's public relations office.

The National Reconciliation Committee, which was set up in 1995 by the Archdiocese to "deliver the love of God to hungry North Koreans," has so far provided 11 billion won (US$11.6 million; Ђ 9 million) worth of aid to North Korea.

The committee said it jointly runs two flour factories with North Korean authorities and provides 1,200 tons of flour to the North every year.

North Korea's constitution says its people can enjoy freedom of religion but the communist regime was cited last year by the U.S. State Department as restricting religious freedom along with Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Vietnam.

According to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom , Pyongyang has two Protestant, a Roman Catholic and a new Orthodox church, the only ones in the country, for elderly people who were Christian believers before the end of World War II, or for them to meet and sing.

Education and outreach programs and religious publications are not permitted, and religious worshippers are frequently persecuted, the report said.

The delegation is scheduled to return home Saturday, reports the AP.