Seoul okays $11m in humanitarian aid for North

SEOUL • South Korea approved US$8 million (S$11 million) in humanitarian aid for the impoverished North yesterday, even though negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal are deadlocked and with inter-Korean relations at a standstill.

It will be the first such aid Seoul has provided Pyongyang since 2015 and follows the North's lowest recorded harvest for a decade, according to the United Nations.

The donation - to be made through the UN - comes as South Korean President Moon Jae-in seeks to salvage diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington after the breakdown of the Hanoi summit, when the North's leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump failed to reach a deal on Pyongyang's nuclear programme and sanctions relief.

Pyongyang has since largely cut off contact with Seoul and Washington, with the South's unification minister saying this week he had last spoken to a North Korean official at the start of last month.

Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said the government had approved a plan to provide the funds amid concerns over the "worsening food situation".

It will give US$4.5 million to the World Food Programme to help address malnutrition, along with US$3.5 million to Unicef for health issues among children and pregnant women.

More than 10 million North Koreans - 40 per cent of the population - were suffering from severe food shortages, according to recent UN estimates.

 
 
 
 

It is the first humanitarian aid implemented by Mr Moon's government, but a North Korean propaganda outlet has already dismissed it as "non-essential" for inter-Korean relations.

If the South "sincerely wishes for sustained development, peace and prosperity", it should implement the inter-Korean joint economic projects agreed last year instead of "raising the issue of humanitarian aid", the state-run Uriminzokkiri website said in a commentary last month.

Several sets of sanctions currently block many proposed developments.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2019, with the headline 'Seoul okays $11m in humanitarian aid for North'. Print Edition | Subscribe