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(3rd LD) S. Korea mulling over US$8 mln in aid to N.K. via int'l organs

2017/09/14 17:07

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(ATTN: REWRITES lead; RECASTS with more details throughout)

SEOUL, Sept. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Thursday that it is considering providing US$8 million in aid to North Korea via U.N. agencies on the belief that humanitarian help should be handled separately from political considerations.

The government plans to hold a meeting on inter-Korean cooperation next Thursday to finalize whether to offer assistance to infants and pregnant women in North Korea, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

The previous conservative government suspended its aid to the North through U.N. agencies after the North's nuclear and missile tests in 2016.

Seoul's move comes at a delicate time when the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) recently slapped new tougher sanctions over Pyongyang's sixth nuclear test.

A ministry official cited urgency in humanitarian situations facing those who are vulnerable in the impoverished country.

"The government's basic stance is that humanitarian assistance to those who are vulnerable in North Korea should be continued regardless of political considerations," the official said.

"But Seoul plans to decide the details of the aid and its timing after taking into account the inter-Korean situation," he added.

If approved, the South would provide $4.5 million for a nutrition program run by the World Food Program (WFP). The remainder would support a project on nutrition, medications and vaccine provisions by the U.N. International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The two agencies have asked Seoul to resume its support.

If granted, it would be the first humanitarian assistance by Seoul under the Moon Jae-in administration which took office in May. It would also mark the resumption of aid via U.N. organizations after a hiatus of nearly two years.

President Moon said at the Group of 20 summit in July that assistance in the welfare and medical sectors should not be linked to political situations, citing the issue of malnutrition among North Korean infants.

According to a U.N. report, some 18 million North Koreans of the 24.9 million population are suffering from food shortages and malnutrition.

South Korea offered humanitarian assistance to the North even under conservative administrations, but Moon's predecessor under an ousted President Park Geun-hye held off the aid after the North's fourth nuclear test in January 2016.

Moon has vowed to seek sanctions and dialogue to resolve the North's nuclear issue.

Some raised questions about the timing of Seoul's announcement amid the North's provocations and the UNSC's adoption of fresh sanctions.

The official said that the move is compatible with the sanction regimes, adding that it is an expression of the government's strong will to handle the issue regardless of political situations.

"The latest U.N. sanctions resolution also reaffirmed that it is not intended to negatively affect humanitarian activities for North Korean citizens or restrict them," the official said.

The government said that it has explained its aid plan in advance to the United States and Japan in order not to give the wrong message to the international community focusing on pressure and sanctions on the wayward regime.

This photo provided by the World Food Program (WFP) and Marco Frattini on May 24, 2014, shows WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin (L) meeting with North Korean children at a nursery facility during her visit to North Korea. (Yonhap) This photo provided by the World Food Program (WFP) and Marco Frattini on May 24, 2014, shows WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin (L) meeting with North Korean children at a nursery facility during her visit to North Korea. (Yonhap)

In May, the South announced that it will permit civic groups to seek inter-Korean exchanges to an extent that such a move would not compromise the international sanctions regime.

But North Korea has rejected it in protest at Seoul's support for U.N. sanctions against it. It claimed that sanctions and dialogue cannot go together.

The ministry also added that it is "positively" considering chipping in $6 million for a U.N. census on North Korea.

North Korea earlier said that it plans to conduct a preliminary survey of its population in October with technical support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The census is slated for next year.

"Seoul is mulling over the support," the official noted. "It will be a good chance to get an idea of the current state of the North Korean population with reliable international methods and the ministry feels the need (for supporting) such project."

   It would mark the North's first census since 2008, when the South provided Pyongyang with $4 million by tapping its inter-Korean cooperation fund.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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