South Korea unlikely to help North recover from floods

Villagers trying to repair roads from Chongjing to Musan and Yonsa counties in North Hamyong province earlier this month. Rescue workers have been struggling to reach North Korea's flood-ravaged communities. More than 130 people have died and thousan
Villagers trying to repair roads from Chongjing to Musan and Yonsa counties in North Hamyong province earlier this month. Rescue workers have been struggling to reach North Korea's flood-ravaged communities. More than 130 people have died and thousands are in urgent need of help.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • South Korea said yesterday it was unlikely to provide humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of flood survivors in North Korea even if the country asked for help, reaffirming its hardline stance after the North's fifth nuclear test.

North Korea has mobilised soldiers and workers in internal relief efforts for an estimated 140,000 victims in its northern provinces after torrential rains last month caused what it has described as some of the worst flooding in its history. The impoverished country is weeks away from winter.

International relief agencies, including the United Nations World Food Programme, have also sent food and other assistance and have appealed for millions of dollars in international donations.

More than 130 people were killed in the floods, with hundreds missing. More than 35,500 houses, 8,700 schools and other buildings were damaged, along with 16,000ha of arable land, the agencies said. The North also said that 68,900 people were without shelter.

Yesterday, the South Korean government said it would not help.

"North Korea has not asked for help and we don't expect it to," Mr Jeong Joon Hee, a spokesman for the South's Unification Ministry, said during a news briefing. "Even if it does, I think, given the present situation, that the possibility of providing aid is low."

News of flooding and extensive damage in the impoverished North has prompted many in the South to call for humanitarian aid to be sent to the North.

Despite North Korea's frequent military provocations and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the suffering of ordinary citizens often elicits sympathy in the South. The South's Constitution includes North Korea in its territory and calls for "national unity" through "humanitarianism and brotherly love".

Mr Jeong said yesterday that North Korea was not helping itself by conducting a costly nuclear test this month as its people were suffering from the floods.

"It should have spent the massive expenses not on a nuclear test but in helping its people recover from the flood damage," Mr Jeong said.

The Sept 9 nuclear test, the fifth most powerful so far by Pyongyang, was in defiance of UN sanctions that were tightened in March.

Foreign ministers of the US, Japan and South Korea met in New York on Sunday, ahead of UN meetings, to discuss stepped-up measures against North Korea.

US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Washington's position that the US was willing to negotiate with the North if the country committed to denuclearisation, which Pyongyang has refused to do.

South Korea and the US will conduct a joint aerial exercise next month that will focus on striking North Korea's nuclear facilities, military officials said yesterday, reported the Yonhap news agency.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'South Korea unlikely to help North recover from floods'. Print Edition | Subscribe