Gov’t shuts off spigot for cash flowing North

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Gov’t shuts off spigot for cash flowing North

South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced yesterday that it asked government agencies last week to suspend budgets related to inter-Korean exchanges, another move designed to stanch cash flowing north of the border amid heightened tensions on the peninsula.

In a press briefing yesterday, spokesman Chun Hae-sung said the ministry last Friday sent formal documents to about a dozen cabinet ministries and government agencies.

“Given the grave state of inter-Korean relations following their seizure of our real estate at Mount Kumgang, we wanted to cooperate with other government agencies in reviewing [the status of inter-Korean exchanges],” Chun explained.

The Unification Ministry oversees inter-Korean matters in Seoul. Last week, the ministry also told private South Korean companies to refrain from reaching any new deals with North Korea or providing resources to the country.

Chun declined to further elaborate on the ministry’s request or to describe the type of projects each government agency was carrying out. But he insisted that humanitarian aid, including supply of milk powder or medicine for infants and sick people, will continue to be provided.

North Korea is a primary suspect in the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan on March 26. The ministry’s decision dovetails with the announcement of the results of an investigation into the sinking of the ship, which is scheduled for Thursday. North Korea is suspected of having attacked the vessel with a torpedo, although it has denied responsibility.

North Korea also angered South Korea by confiscating the South’s properties at Mount Kumgang in April. North Korea has pressed South Korea to resume suspended tour programs to the resort, but the South has been reluctant to do so and has demanded security assurances from Pyongyang.

The tour packages were suspended in July 2008 after a female South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier in a restricted zone near the resort. The tour program had yielded North Korea about $30 million a year over 10 years.

South Korea will inform its neighboring countries of the probe findings ahead of the announcement this week, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

According to a source, South Korea was preparing to invite ambassadors of China, Russia and Japan, among others, to brief them on the findings and South Korea’s next moves.

“To draw a firm international response to the Cheonan sinking, it’s important that we have support from China and Russia, two of the five Security Council permanent members, and also from Japan,” the source said.

South Korea has said if North Korea is named as the culprit by the multinational investigation team, it could raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council and seek further sanctions.

Unanimity by the Security Council’s permanent members, also including the United States, Britain and France, is required for any binding resolution.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun confirmed that “related countries” would be briefed on the Cheonan findings but said the ministry hasn’t decided which countries.

Another source said after the findings are announced, South Korea will send a letter to the Security Council with details, taking the first step in bringing the matter to the council.

By Yoo Jee-ho []
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