South Korea on Thursday decided to send $10 million in aid to North Korea via the World Food Program to address the nutrition needs of women and babies there, as the government seeks more engagements to break an inter-Korean impasse.
The decision was approved during a civilian-government committee on inter-Korean exchanges presided over by new Unification Minister Lee In-young, marking the first time that Seoul has reached out to the North since Lee was sworn into office last month.
Through the funds provided by Seoul, the WFP will distribute nearly 9,000 tons of fortified foods to children under the age of 7 and pregnant women in 60 counties across North Korea, as well as another 3,600 tons of food aid, including corn, beans and oil, to 26,500 people.
“Departing from a short vision of affiliating humanitarian projects with the political and military situation, this will be a starting point of firmly abiding by the principles of consistently pursuing humanitarian cooperation,” Lee said during the meeting. “We will start with humanitarian areas and small-scale trade to start inter-Korean cooperation, and then develop into fulfilling promises and agreements between the two Koreas.”
The ministry said its decision for the assistance was at the WFP’s request and on the belief that the project could improve the humanitarian situation in the North for those who need it the most.
Seoul was seeking to go ahead with the project in June, but the plan was stalled as North Korea escalated hostilities, warned of severing ties with the South and demolished an inter-Korean joint liaison office in their territory, in anger over anti-Pyongyang leaflets floated across the border by civic groups.
The ministry has donated three times to the WFP in the past -- $7 million in 2014, $2.1 million in 2015 and $4.5 million in 2019, totalling $13.6 million.
The ministry will send the money to the WFP next week, and then the organization will purchase the commodities and ship them to the North, which is expected to take around four months. The supplies are expected to reach the North by the end of this year, and to be distributed to North Korean residents early next year.
During the meeting on Thursday, the committee also approved a plan to spend 28.92 million won ($24,400) this year as part of a three-year project to revamp the Demilitarized Zone on the border with North Korea into a cultural zone with museums and exhibition halls.
Meanwhile, Seoul is also seeking to barter sugar for North Korean alcoholic beverages, as a way to work around international sanctions imposed on North Korea.
In June, a private entity named the Unification Nonghyup signed a contract with two North Korean firms, including the Korea Kaesong Koryo Insam Trading Corp., to import North Korean liquors worth around 150 million won, as well as candy, tea and other items.
As payment, the firm will provide 167 tons of sugar to the North, considering the sanctions that ban bulk cash transfers.
The ministry said it is reviewing the case to determine if the transaction meets criteria for approval.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org