Seoul’s Unification Ministry has allowed an international aid group to ship tuberculosis treatments and construction materials for hospital wards to North Korea, it said Tuesday, marking the first shipment to the North under the new administration.
According to the ministry, the Eugene Bell Foundation Korea’s shipment is valued at 1.9 billion won ($1.7 million), with medication worth 1.5 billion won and construction materials estimated at 350 million won. The wards will be built with materials produced in South Korea and is designed to accommodate 200 patients.
Stephen Linton (right), chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation Korea, speaks to reporters over the foundation`s project to offer medication for tuberculosis to North Korea on June 15, 2017. (Yonhap)
Under the former administration, South Korea had approved delivery of tuberculosis medication three times, but it has rarely permitted the shipment of construction materials to North Korea, as such investments were banned following sanctions against Pyongyang implemented on May 24, 2010.
Kaesong industrial park, an inter-Korean factory complex in a North Korean border city, was the only exception to the rule before its shutdown in 2016.
“(The approval was made on the basis that) tuberculosis is a disease necessary for consistent treatment, and the shipment does not have the risk of being misused and monitoring will continue,” a ministry official said.
The construction materials are expected to be delivered to the North Korean port city of Nampo through China in July.
Despite the news, South Korean nongovernmental organizations are still stuck in limbo with their humanitarian aid business which has been defunct for nearly a decade.
Seoul has been giving the greenlight to South Korean nongovernmental organizations on their requests to “contact” North Koreans, but has been tight-lipped about visitation rights and the exchange of goods.
In a recent interview with The Korea Herald, Lee Joo-sung, head of World Vision Korea’s North Korea division, stressed the importance of humanitarian projects conducted under South Korean nongovernmental organizations.
“The program is now in operation, though (things are) not so smooth. What’s regrettable is that South Koreans have been unable to visit because the program is modeled here and without them it could not go easily,” Lee said.
“South Korea’s humanitarian aid programs have significance in that they help achieve better understanding and reconciliation between the two countries, and serve as a stepping stone to unification. And that’s something international NGOs cannot do.”
Earlier this month, Pyongyang rejected a South Korean civic group’s offer for an anti-malarial exchange, taking issue with Seoul’s decision to follow the UN Security Council’s sanctions against the communist regime.
Since May, the Unification Ministry has been approving local nongovernmental organizations to contact North Korea, within the extent that they do not undermine international sanctions.
By Jung Min-kyung (email@example.com