Seoul goes ahead with economic aid to N. Korea despite sanctions

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2017-09-21 14:53 Updated : 2017-09-21 14:53
글씨작게 글씨크게

[Yonhap Photo]

South Korea approved an economic assistance package of eight million US dollars for hungry North Koreans through U.N. agencies despite international efforts to rein in the nuclear-armed country with tough sanctions.

It would be South Korea's first humanitarian assistance to North Korea through international bodies since economic aid worth some $800,000 was delivered through the U.N. Population Fund in December 2015.

For its new aid program, Seoul would support North Korean infants and pregnant women with $4.5 million for a nutrition program run by the World Food Program (WFP) and $3.5 million to a project on nutrition and vaccine provisions by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"It is a universal principle and value shared by the international community that sanctions against the North Korean regime and humanitarian assistance to its people should be dealt with separately," Unification Minister Cho Myung-gyon said.

Aware of worries at home and abroad, the ministry promised to make a cautious decision on the timing of aid and size after taking into account "an overall situation and inter-Korean relations". Pyongyang's sixth nuclear test on September 3 prompted the UN Security Council to adopt new sanctions.

President Moon Jae-in has pledged a "two-track" approach -- tough sanctions against provocations but engagement and dialogue otherwise -- in an effort to resume inter-Korean dialogue. However, Pyongyang has ignored Seoul's peace overtures, sticking to the long-standing policy of bypassing Seoul in negotiations with Washington on missiles and other sensitive issues.

Relations were strained in March 2010 when Seoul blamed a North Korean submarine for torpedoing the warship Cheonan. The incident froze cross-border exchanges and trade. In November the same year, the North shelled a front-line island, killing four South Koreans and briefly triggering concerns of a full-scale conflict.

South Korea suspended almost all civilian inter-Korean exchanges since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January 2016. South Korean state warehouses are packed with surplus rice reserves, but many South Koreans are opposed to the unconditional resumption of rice aid and economic assistance to North Korea.