|South Korea’s chief delegate Kim Ki-woong (right) and his counterpart Park Chol-su shake hands during their talks in Gaeseong, North Korea, Monday. (Joint Press Corps)|
GAESEONG/SEOUL -- South Korea unveiled plans Monday to resume support for the World Health Organization’s programs to help malnourished North Korean children in a fresh sign of warming cross-border relations.
It pledged to finance half the $12.6 million program, which was launched in 2006 to help reform and repair hospitals, train personnel and boost supplies of key drugs there.
Seoul’s contribution, which may be raised in the future, will come from an inter-Korean cooperation fund. It provided about $10 million annually between 2006 and 2008, increased the sum to more than $13 million in 2009, but has since halted its support amid escalated inter-Korean tension.
The Unification Ministry said it would also approve 12 local civic groups’ shipment of 2.35 billion won ($2.13 million) worth of nutritional assistance, medicines and school supplies bound for the impoverished country.
“We will issue approval once each group completes consultations with North Korea, plans to secure transparent distribution, and preparations of goods,” ministry spokesperson Kim Hyung-suk told reporters.
“The assistance for the WHO will be carried out after consultations with relevant agencies and a vote by the South and North Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council,” he added, referring to a state-run policy advisory panel.
The decision marks the third approval of humanitarian assistance for the northern neighbor since President Park Geun-hye was sworn in.
Her administration allowed five civic groups to provide 1.47 billion won worth of aid to the North in late July and the Eugene Bell Foundation to send tuberculosis drugs in March. It also plans to give the U.N. Children’s Fund $6.04 million for programs to help North Korean infants and pregnant women.
Notably, the newly-authorized private aid items include 63 tons of flour needed to make “nutritional bread” for kids.
Along with rice, cement and heavy equipment, flour has long been one of sensitive items for Seoul to give due to concerns that the regime may divert it for military and other uses.
“We concluded that approving the transport of the flour as an ingredient of nutritional bread would not be a problem,” Kim noted.
“But for the purpose of direct consumption, it will take time given the distribution transparency issue and the possibilities for diversion.”
The announcement came a few hours after an inter-Korean panel opened its first meeting in Gaeseong to discuss infrastructure enhancement, investment protection and other thorny issues crucial for reopening the industrial park.
The negotiations are led by the South’s Kim Ki-woong, director-general of inter-Korean cooperation district support at the Unification Ministry, and the North’s Park Chol-su, vice director of the General Bureau of the Special Zone Development Guidance.
By Shin Hyon-hee and Joint Press Corps