Aid to North separated from politics

Unification Ministry says assistance should continue ‘if possible,’ regardless of the actions the country takes
Joong Ang Daily
Ser Myo-ja

Humanitarian aid will keep flowing to North Korea “if possible,” no matter what the country does politically, the Ministry of Unification announced yesterday.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said yesterday that the 2007 operational plan had been submitted to President Roh Moo-hyun on Feb. 6, before the recent agreement in the six-party talks designed to eventually eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

The Unification Ministry released the abstracts of the plan yesterday, and critics quickly denounced it.

“I cannot understand why the administration is voluntarily giving up its leverage,” Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said yesterday. “If the government wanted to separate humanitarian aid from politics, it should have linked the aid provision to other developments in humanitarian programs, such as separated family issues or the repatriation of POWs.”

The administration has shown a tendency to try to change its policy toward North Korea whenever inter-Korean relations have frozen, rather than trying to push North Korea to change, Mr. Nam said.

After the North test-fired missiles in July of last year, South Korea withheld its promised 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer aid. Inter-Korean ministerial talks are scheduled to take place from Feb. 28 to March 2 and resuming the humanitarian aid is expected to be discussed.

In its plan for this year, the Unification Ministry set forth six goals for inter-Korean relations, saying “humanitarian assistance will be provided separately from political situations if possible.”

Among the goals were releasing tension and building trust between the two Koreas, expanding inter-Korean economic projects, the construction of infrastructure such as roads and train tracks in North Korea and adding more businesses to the Kaesong Industrial Complex program.

The ministry also said it will seek progress in humanitarian projects, such as reuniting separated families and repatriating South Korean prisoners of war and kidnap victims alive in the North.

Mr. Lee also stressed the importance of the inter-Korean summit to resolving the nuclear crisis and to bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula, but added, “Right now, the government is not engaged in any specific efforts for an inter-Korean summit.”

He said new applications will be accepted by South Korean firms for locations in Kaesong by late as mid-April.

The South will also resume flood relief aid to the North, withheld after the North’s nuclear test in October, Mr. Lee said.


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