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North Korea must be helped, cry lawmakers

Government pressed to end ‘only if they ask for it’ policy

May 16,2008
The South Korean government is in a quandary over sending food aid to North Korea. Legislators are increasingly urging Seoul to offer humanitarian support to the impoverished North despite the government’s stance that it will not offer such aid unless Pyongyang asks for it.
Ruling and opposing party lawmakers have raised their voices in unison, saying the South must provide aid to a country that is possibly facing its worst famine in a decade. Washington is also mulling aid at a time when the North seems to want to make progress in its denuclearization process.
With mounting pressure to move now, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan even expressed an intention to have “direct discussions” with Pyongyang about possible food assistance.
“We are listening to related countries’ and international organizations’ opinions about the North’s food situation and coordinating our plans,” Yu told reporters yesterday.
When asked if Seoul is willing to speak directly with Pyongyang on the food assistance issue, he said the Unification Ministry is “making many efforts.”
“We are closely watching the situation because no more humanitarian disasters like famine should happen in North Korea,” he said.
Meanwhile, Grand National Party floor leader Ahn Sang-soo urged the government to “prevent starvation in the North by offering food in time.”
“The government needs to review the case as quickly as possible instead of putting many conditions on the move,” he said in a meeting with senior party members yesterday.
United Democratic Party spokesman Choi Jae-sung echoed the sentiment. “It is no time for the South to stick to the position that we will only offer help if the North asks for it, at a time when even the U.S. is pushing forward with food aid plans.”
Several U.S. officials visited Pyongyang earlier this month to coordinate possible food aid to the country. Now, Washington has nearly reached an agreement under which it would provide 500,000 tons of food assistance through the World Food Program and other nongovernmental organizations, according to a senior South Korean official yesterday.
“When, how and what aid will be sent has not yet been decided. But a team of [U.S.] experts should visit the country once again to decide these factors,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “The situation may not be as bad as the mid-1990s, but we view that it is quite difficult.”


By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter[hawon@joongang.co.kr]


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