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S. Korea to hike N. Korea-related budget by 10.4 pct in 2015

South Korea announced a double-digit increase in next year's budget for its ministry handling North Korean affairs on Thursday, emboldened by President Park Geun-hye's reunification drive.

The unification ministry's total budget will jump 10.4 percent on-year to 1.4 trillion won ($1.3 billion) in 2015, according to the government's new budget plan approved by the Cabinet. It requires parliamentary endorsement.

By type, the ministry's general budget will grow 5.8 percent to 230 billion won, which includes 37.7 billion won for ministry officials' wages and 182 billion won for various projects.

The ministry said it plans to expand defector assistance programs, unification-related education, and humanitarian projects such as reunions of separated families and aid for babies and pregnant women in the impoverished communist neighbor.

"The 2015 general budget focuses on projects to hammer out tangible results from substantial preparations for reunification, a pillar of the underlying policy of laying the groundwork for peaceful reunification," the ministry said in a press release.

The South-North Cooperation Fund, which takes up the bulk of the ministry's budget, will rise 11.4 percent on-year to 1.2 trillion won, the ministry said. The fund, created in 1991, is earmarked for inter-Korean economic, cultural and other exchanges.

The planned budget hike apparently reflects Seoul's will to step up efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and prepare for reunification some day despite unrelenting military tensions on the peninsula.

The South Korean president unveiled her clear view on future reunification during her New Year's Day speech this year, calling it a "bonanza" not only for the two Koreas but also for neighboring countries.

On a trip to the former East German city of Dresden in March, Park laid out a three-point proposal to Pyongyang aimed at moving forward her policy of a "Korea Trust-Building Process." 

She vowed efforts by Seoul to help North Koreans in need, in particular babies, kids and pregnant women, the establishment of infrastructure for co-prosperity of the two Koreas, and broader exchanges of their people. (Yonhap)



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