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Moon meeting focuses on food needs of North

Unification Ministry considers providing support by September

May 15,2019
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), agreed on the urgency of food relief for the North Korean people in a meeting Monday in Seoul.

The surprise meeting came as Moon’s government hastens plans to provide food to North Korea no later than September, as recommended by the WFP, despite the recent short-range missile launches by Pyongyang.

A Blue House official said that Chung Eui-yong, chief of the Blue House National Security Office, originally was slated to meet with Beasley, but Moon decided to meet him in person for a briefing on the food situation in North Korea.

Beasley emphasized the urgent need for food relief, said the official, as he briefed Moon on the results of a comprehensive report released on May 3 by the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This report found that North Korea faced its worst harvest in 10 years due to dry spells, heat waves and flooding, and that about 10.1 million people, or 40 percent of the population, suffer from severe food shortages.

Moon agreed with the WFP chief and said that he already conveyed to U.S. President Donald Trump his support for humanitarian food assistance to North Korea, according to the Blue House official. Moon and Trump held a summit in Washington last month.

Earlier that day, Beasley, a former South Carolina governor, met with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul to express his deep concern about the food shortage situation in North Korea. The WFP chief also met with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon Tuesday.

The South Korean government is in the process of speeding up plans for humanitarian food assistance to the North, starting with an attempt to build public consensus.

Unification Minister Kim on Tuesday afternoon, following talks with the WFP chief the previous day, met with 17 leaders of civic and religious groups to canvass public opinion on the government’s plans.

The civic groups included the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea and Korean Conference of Religions for Peace, who all expressed general support for the government’s efforts.

A Unification Ministry official told reporters Tuesday, “The WFP report on North Korean food security states that between May and September is the right time to provide support.”

The WFP and FAO report said the situation in North Korea “could further deteriorate during the lean season from May to September if no proper and urgent humanitarian actions are taken.” The report found that a reduced harvest in North Korea has led to an uncovered food deficit of 1.36 million metric tons. The official said that the Unification Ministry is still in the process of collecting opinions and needs to determine the timing, method and amount of aid.

In an interview last Friday, Moon maintained the need to send food assistance to the North. But after the North’s short-range missile testing last Thursday, the government needed to build a public consensus, he said.

Trump last week said he won’t “intervene” with South Korea’s plans to send food to the North. Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, visited Seoul last week and the topic of food aid came up. He reportedly expressed concerns that food aid could be misappropriated to the North Korean military.

The Blue House over Twitter shared photos of Beasley and Moon’s meeting and said that the Korean government would “make dedicated contributions” for the international community, “not just humanitarian aid for DPRK.” DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

On Twitter Monday evening, Beasley thanked Moon “for a great meeting,” adding: “Your leadership, and the generosity of your people, will help save lives and change lives around the world.”

It is unclear how Pyongyang will respond to Seoul’s offer of aid as the North’s propaganda outlets have in recent days scoffed such proposals. However, North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun in a front-page article on Tuesday also called for mobilization to fight damage to crops caused by the ongoing drought in the country.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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