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(2nd LD) S. Korea's defense minister says provision of N.K. aid could be delayed

2017/09/18 15:33

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SEOUL, Sept. 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense minister said Monday he was told that, even if the government approves a plan for humanitarian aid to the North this week, the actual provision will be put off until a considerably later date.

Seoul plans to decide Thursday whether to provide US$8 million in aid for infants and pregnant women in the North through U.N. organizations. Critics have raised concerns that Seoul's aid may compromise international efforts to pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

"I've heard that the government is likely to delay and adjust the timing of giving aid," Defense Minister Song Young-moo said during a parliamentary committee session when asked whether Seoul's proposed aid is appropriate amid North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations.

He added that he is not in a position to comment on the affairs of South Korea's unification ministry.

An official at the Ministry of Unification reiterated that it is flexible on the timing and other details of the proposed aid.

"A decision over the envisioned assistance will take into account inter-Korean ties and other factors," he said.

If the ministry approves the aid plan this week, it will mark Seoul's first assistance to the North via U.N. agencies since December 2015.

The previous conservative government suspended humanitarian assistance to the wayward regime after its fourth nuclear test, which was carried out in January 2016.

South Korea on Monday reaffirmed that the issue of humanitarian aid to North Korea should be dealt with separately from the current international sanctions.

"The government's basic stance is that humanitarian help to vulnerable people in North Korea should be continued regardless of the political situation. This (issue) is separate from sanctions and pressure," Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

He said that the international community is on the same page over the need to help North Koreans who suffer dire conditions and human rights violations.

"The government is sternly responding to North Korea's provocations with pressure and sanctions," Baik added.

This file photo shows Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman at South Korea's unification ministry. (Yonhap) This file photo shows Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman at South Korea's unification ministry. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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