South Korea is pushing to more than double next year’s budget for aid projects in Laos as part of efforts to boost bilateral cooperation in dealing with North Korean defectors, government sources here said Monday.
Seoul’s foreign ministry has asked the finance ministry to earmark 4.84 billion won ($4.3 million) in official development assistance to the Southeast Asian country, more than twice the 2.04 billion won set aside for this year.
The budget aims to launch diverse projects, including education support for Souphanouvong University and drawing national topographic maps, as well as to expand support for existing programs in medical care and infrastructure building, among others, according to the sources.
The ODA increase comes after nine young North Korean defectors who escaped to Laos through China were forcibly deported back by Lao authorities to their totalitarian homeland in May, which put South Korea’s foreign ministry under fire for failing to protect them and to provide enough diplomatic support to prevent them from being sent back to the North.
As a way to prevent a recurrence of such an incident and to boost cooperation with Southeast Asian countries that are used as key transit points by the North Korean defectors who eventually wish to enter South Korea, the government has decided to expand its development assistance in the Southeast Asian nations, according to the sources.
The ministry, however, declined to officially confirm any links between its plan for more support for Laos and the forced repatriation case, while an official simply said the rebound in the scale of assistance for Laos “follows the delay in creating assistance programs.”
“The government takes into consideration diverse factors, including comprehensive circumstances of a recipient country, when setting the scale of assistance,” the official said.
South Korea’s ODA to Laos had been on the rise from 5.8 billion won in 2009 to 6.8 billion won in 2011, but it tumbled to 3.8 billion won in 2012 and further down to around 2 billion won this year.
South Korea earmarked a total of 1.9 trillion won for this year’s ODA, with a plan to increase the amount to 0.25 percent of the country’s gross national income from the current 0.15 percent, in a move to give back after receiving help from the international community to rebuild its economy following the 1950-53 Korean War. (Yonhap News)