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2008/05/22 10:59 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 4 (May 22, 2008)

   *** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

S. Korean Government Allocates Budget to Support NGOs Helping N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite the soured relationship between the two Koreas, the South Korean government has decided to give quite a large amount of financial support to civilian organizations for their support projects for impoverished North Korea.

   The Unification Ministry said on May 15 it has earmarked some 10.2 billion won (US$9.5 million) from a civilian-government fund established to promote inter-Korean exchanges to support dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in their cooperation projects with North Korea this year.

   Ministry officials said the amount is slightly less than the 11.7 billion won spent for the groups last year under the liberal Roh Moo-hyun government, but it is still larger than expected.

   Relations between the two Koreas have worsened since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak, who has taken a tougher stance on North Korea than his predecessors. Apparently angered at Lee's pledge to link inter-Korean relations to North Korea's nuclear disarmament, Pyongyang cut dialogue with Seoul and banned all South Korean officials from the communist country. However, cross-border civilian exchanges have not been affected.

   The plan was aimed at helping NGOs smoothly carry out their agreements with the North, officials said, adding the decision was made in a meeting of an 18-member civilian-government committee under the ministry's control.

   The committee separately agreed to allocate about 4 billion won from the fund to support UNICEF's programs for North Korean infants, and 10.7 billion won for similar programs run by the World Health Organization.

   In addition to facilitating aid from NGOs, a government source said plans are being reviewed to send 50,000 tons of corn across the border. The official, who declined to be identified, said the corn was originally set aside for shipment to North Korea last year, but was held back for various reasons.

   "No detailed plans have been reached on this issue, and the government stance that Pyongyang must ask for help before any aid can be provided remains valid," he said. However, he said that sending the corn would not really conflict with the government's stance, since it should have been sent in 2007.

   The consideration by the government comes as reports have filtered out from North Korea that its people could face serious hardships due to the lack of food this year. Such developments have caused the U.S. to take steps to ship 500,000 tons of food to Pyongyang.

  
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S. Korea Flexible on Food Aid to N. Korea: Foreign Minister

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will consider sending humanitarian food aid to North Korea without such a request from Pyongyang if the food situation in the North is confirmed to be serious, Seoul's top diplomat said on May 19.

   The shift in position came three days after the U.S. announced a plan to restart food aid to the North. The U.S. plans to begin shipping 500,000 tons of food to the North next month, 400,000 tons of which are to be delivered through the World Food Programme (WFP), and the rest via U.S. nongovernmental organizations.

   Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan reaffirmed the government's basic position that South Korea will deliver food to North Korea only when the North requests it. But he said that the terms can be changed if the food supply condition of its secretive communist neighbor is "very serious."

  "If North Korea's food condition is confirmed to be very serious or a severe natural disaster occurs there, South Korea can provide food," Yu said in a press briefing. He added that in that case, Seoul would provide food without waiting for a request from Pyongyang.

   The minister also pointed out the difficulties of obtaining objective data on the food shortage in the North, noting that the WFP will soon send a team of experts to North Korea to gather data on its food situation and have related consultations with authorities.

   "I am not in a position yet to say how serious the food situation there is," Yu said. "Depending on a change in the situation, we will have consultations with the Unification Ministry and other agencies." The Unification Ministry handles inter-Korean relations, including the direct shipment of food and other assistance.

   Yu's comments were construed as signaling Seoul's move toward providing food to the North, which is showing no sign of requesting such aid first, amid chilled inter-Korean ties since the launch of a new conservative administration in the South. President Lee Myung-bak also said last week that his government can consider food aid "if a situation is created." Lee did not elaborate.

   U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow also said earlier in the day, "Both the U.S. and South Korea are worried about the DPRK's dire food situation." The DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Vershbow said the U.S. decision to restart its food aid is based on the North's agreement on substantial improvement in the monitoring of how the food would be distributed.

   But the Unification Ministry ruled out emergency aid to relieve the North Korean food problem, saying the North's food situation is not serious enough to require emergency food aid. "It is the government's position that North Korea is not in a position requiring emergency aid," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the ministry, told reporters on May 19.

   Seoul is under mounting pressure to send humanitarian aid to North Korea as reports on the threat of an outright famine in the communist state made headlines in recent days. South Korea, however, insists it will resume its annual shipment of about 400,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer when the North makes a request for it.

  
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S. Korean President Lee Urges N. Korea to Move Toward Openness

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak said on May 18 that South Korea is willing to help North Korea go down the path of openness and transformation in order to bring new opportunities and improve bilateral ties.

   "There should be opportunities and changes in inter-Korean relations. North Korea, too, has to change and now is a golden opportunity for it to change," said Lee in an address marking the 28th anniversary of the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement.

   "Many socialist nations have adopted a market economy and openness, and are all successful and better off now. South Korea is ready to assist North Korea in change and openness. We have to move from confrontation to co-existence and from hostility to reconciliation. We're always open-minded toward the North," Lee said at the ceremony held in Gwangju, about 320 kilometers south of Seoul.

   Since his inauguration in February, Lee has urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but promised to continue to extend humanitarian aid to the communist North regardless of the nuclear issue.

   The Gwangju Democratization Movement refers to a bloody government crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in the southern city in May 1980. The regime of then President Chun Doo-hwan, who took power through a military coup in 1979, dispatched paratroopers and tanks to brutally put down the revolt. Government data show that about 200 people were killed and 1,800 others wounded in the uprising, but unofficial figures put the death toll at over 2,000.

  (END)