South Korea does not ban civic groups from sending flour and other humanitarian supplies to North Korea, an official here said Tuesday, hinting at a new policy direction on aid, which has been banned since the North’s November naval attack.
Seoul has been cautious about sending flour to Pyongyang due to its possible use as military provisions. The purported approval indicates South Korea’s softening stance toward assisting the North with food and may lead to larger-scale aid, analysts say.
“We have never excluded flour from the list of humanitarian aid items to the vulnerable sector (in North Korea),” a South Korean official said on the condition of anonymity. “We do believe, however, flour should be sent based upon proper monitoring (of food distribution).”
Seoul’s Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a coalition of pro-unification civic groups, requested the Unification Ministry last week provide 1,035 tons of flour and two tons of infant milk formula in aid to feed the most vulnerable demographics of children and women in North Korea.
Other humanitarian groups here have also been demanding their government send flour to the North, claiming the government is making light of North Korea’s food shortages.
North Korea, which has relied on outside assistance to feed its population of 24 million since the mid-1990s, has been increasing calls for international aid.
Based on its own assessment, the United Nations’ food agency had asked countries to donate 434,000 tons of food to North Korea in March, claiming food must be sent at least to women and children despite Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear ambitions.
The European Union also announced earlier this month it will provide emergency food aid worth 10 million euros to the impoverished state.
Despite the growing pressure, South Korea has been reluctant to resume aid, suspecting the North’s Kim Jong-il regime of stockpiling military provisions with food assistance. And relations have remained frosty since the North’s deadly attacks last year.
A recently released Pyongyang report showed that North Koreans have been conducting aggressive campaigns to deliver rice to their 1.2 million-strong active military, adding to Seoul’s concerns and doubts.
North Korea apparently torpedoed a South Korean warship in March last year and bombarded a border island eight months later, killing a total of 50 South Koreans.
The Kim regime has often refused to let outsiders monitor its food distribution process, triggering suspicions that most of the outside aid is being used to feed its army and political elite.
South Korea suspended its annual government-funded aid of 400,000 tons of rice in 2008 when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office with a hard-line policy against the Pyongyang regime.
By Shin Hae-in (firstname.lastname@example.org)