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2008/05/15 11:05 KST


South Korea Denies Rice Aid for North Korea Via International Body

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- While Washington is reportedly preparing to send 500,000 tons of rice or other grains to North Korea, a senior South Korean official said the Seoul government is not considering sending rice aid to the North via an international organization.

   A senior official of the Unification Ministry made the remarks on May 13 amid growing worries that the impoverished nation is slipping into a tragic situation similar to the one in the late 1990s, when masses of people are believed to have died of starvation. North Korea is dependent on handouts from overseas to feed its 23 million people.

   The denial followed media reports that the government may soon provide humanitarian rice aid to North Korea indirectly via the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) or the United States, as the stalled six-party process on North Korea's nuclear disarmament picks up speed and the country's food shortages worsen.

   "There is nothing under consideration or being pushed for with regard to sending humanitarian aid through an international body," the senior official told reporters, requesting anonymity. "We can consider sending the average amount of aid through an international body if there is a request from the body," the official said, "but the possibility that we will provide rice through the WFP is scant."

   On May 12, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan stated in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, a vernacular daily, that South Korea was consulting with the U.S. and an international organization to aggressively provide humanitarian aid to the famine-stricken country.

   Between 2001 and 2004, South Korea annually donated about 100,000 tons of corn to North Korea via the WFP's aid package. Last year's contribution was 32,000 tons of grain, including corn and beans.

   Recently, a U.S. team visited Pyongyang to discuss how to guarantee U.S. food aid reaches the most needy people in North Korea. The U.S. has reportedly decided to send 400,000 tons of food aid to the North through the WFP and 100,000 tons through a non-governmental organization, but has yet to make a decision on the timing of the aid, apparently to take into account the progress in North Korea's denuclearization under a multilateral deal.

   South Korea has provided about 400,000 to 500,000 tons of food aid to the North every year under the previous two liberal governments, despite criticism that they were making too many concessions to the nuclear-armed North.

   The conservative Seoul government, which has vowed not to send humanitarian food aid to North Korea without a formal request from Pyongyang, is faced with the dilemma of either going against its principles or drawing public criticism for doing nothing to save North Koreans from another food crisis.

   North Korea, apparently angered at President Lee Myung-bak's tougher stance on the communist state, has not made any request for aid this year, but only stepped up accusations against Lee and his government in recent months.

   Meanwhile, North Korea said it had good talks with the U.S. on the proposed provision of U.S. humanitarian food aid to the North, according to the communist state's official news agency. The North's official Korean Central News Agency said on May 8 that a U.S. delegation visited the North in early May, and the two sides had "in-depth and good negotiations on humanitarian food aid." The agency did not reveal further details on the talks.


Pyongyang Waiting for Positive Gesture by Seoul: N.K. Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is willing to resume dialogue with South Korea if Seoul's new conservative government makes a positive gesture and pledges to uphold previous agreements between the two sides, a ranking North Korean official was quoted as saying on May 10.

   "The current chill in relations between the South and the North will go away if the South's highest-ranking official promises to uphold the June 15 Joint Declaration from the 2002 inter-Korean summit, Ri Chung-bok, a North Korean deputy chairman of an inter-Korean body, the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, was quoted as saying.

   Ri made the remarks while meeting in Pyongyang with South Korea's former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, currently serving as head of the South Korean branch of the organization. Jeong and some 90 other South Koreans returned to Seoul on May 10 after a four-day visit to the North to attend the opening of a joint tree farm there. "North Korean officials also asked if I had brought any messages from the South Korean government," Jeong told reporters, adding that the North Koreans appeared to be "very disappointed" when they learned he was not carrying any.

   If the remarks by the North Korean official are true, it may mean that relations between the divided Koreas can be restored, as the new Lee Myung-bak administration has repeatedly pledged to inherit agreements of previous governments with the communist North, although with some added conditions.

   In addition to continuing and expanding joint economic projects, Lee has promised to help raise North Korea's per capita income to US$3,000 within the next 10 years if Pyongyang abandons all of its nuclear programs.

   Pyongyang reacted angrily to the new Seoul government's North Korea of "denuclearization, opening and 3,000 dollars," claiming the South Korean president is looking down on the North. It shut its doors to all South Korean officials shortly after the inauguration of Lee's administration in late February.

   "We refrained from making any comments (about President Lee) because we had some expectations for him, but we had to take actions in self-defense as the South linked the nuclear issue to economic cooperation, and made remarks hinting at possible preemptive strikes against our nation," Ri was quoted as telling Jeong.

   The North Korean, however, dismissed as "absurd" the South Korean president's recent proposal to establish liaison offices in each other's capitals, according to Jeong. "Still, North Korea's stance toward the South appears to be firm, thus it seems very unlikely to move first to restore the stalled inter-Korean dialogue," Jeong said.


South, North Korean Journalists Agree on News Exchange Program

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A group of journalists from South and North Korea gathered in the North's scenic eastern resort of Mt. Kumgang and agreed on May 8 to exchange a variety of news articles and programs, and to engage in solidarity activities between the two sides.

   The three-day meeting starting May 7 was attended by representatives from the two Koreas' journalist divisions, established to implement the June 15 Joint Declaration, which manifested in the first-ever summit between the leaders of the two Koreas on June 15, 2000.

   Both sides adopted a three-point resolution calling for the journalist groups to spearhead the era of national unification through news exchanges and solidarity activities.

   The resolution also called for aggressively launching the unification movement between the two sides under the basic spirit of the summit agreement reached between the leaders of the two Koreas in October 2007. In the resolution, they denounced any biased or forged reports by "anti-unification forces" that create distrust and confrontation between the same Korean people.

   The meeting at Mt. Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North's east coast, brought together 27 journalists from South Korea and 26 from the North, according to the Seoul-based Journalists Association of Korea (JAK).

   The South Korean journalists at the meeting were from a news agency, newspapers, online media and broadcasting companies, while the North Korean reporters represented official media such as newspapers, broadcasters and a news agency.

   The journalists of both Koreas agreed to stay in contact with each other and hold more meetings in the future. They also objected to any kind of war on the Korean Peninsula, and pledged to report fairly to contribute to the peace and reconciliation of the two Koreas.