A growing number of nongovernmental charity groups here are reluctantly regrouping to gain permission for aid to North Korea largely due to the government’s inconsistent application of the rules, civic group members said Monday.
Scores of religious and aid groups belonging to the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea sent flour to the North in July under a different council name as the government banned for several months the council’s request to ship aid.
The Seoul government, which had virtually banned flour aid to Pyongyang since the two Koreas exchanged fire near their maritime border in November, eased its policy in July and allowed the shipment by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. Many of the pro-unification civic groups belonging to the coalition are actually members of the Korea NGO Council, insiders say.
“I cannot help but wonder if the government prefers some groups when approving aid,” a civic group member said on the condition of anonymity. “Wouldn’t it be bizarre if we were asked to get in the government’s good books just to send aid to North Korea?”
The unnamed group member said he even heard some group leaders obtained approval to send aid using personal ties to ranking officials in the Unification Ministry, which covers affairs with Pyongyang.
Another related official called the government’s approval standards “difficult to comprehend.”
“The Unification Ministry made us change the conditions several times based on vague standards. Because the standard changes so often, we often face difficulty in confirming the aid items and the location of shipment,” he said.
“I can understand that this has become more of a sensitive issue due to strained ties, but I still hope the government can come up with a fair, clear standard that everyone can understand,” he added.
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.
Notwithstanding 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.
North Korea apparently torpedoed a South Korean warship in March last year and bombarded a border island eight months later, killing 50 South Koreans.
By Shin Hae-in (firstname.lastname@example.org