Gov’t bars relief group from visiting North Korea

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Gov’t bars relief group from visiting North Korea

South Korea has turned down a request by an association of civic relief groups to be allowed to visit North Korea, as tension persists between the two countries over the sinking of a South Korean warship, an official said yesterday.

The request was made by the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea, which claims a membership of more than 50 South Korean nongovernmental organizations that send aid to the North. The group has been seeking to open an office in the North to monitor the distribution of aid donated by its members.

Lee Jong-joo, spokeswoman for the South's Unification Ministry, said the government would not allow members to travel to North Korea later this week.

"It was judged that approving the visit would be inappropriate at this point of time" when punitive measures for the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan warship near the Koreas' Yellow Sea border are still in effect, she said in a briefing.

North Korea denies any role in the sinking that claimed the lives of 46 South Korean sailors. The U.S. and South Korea have begun to hold maritime drills in the East Sea to protest the sinking that they blamed on a North Korean submarine torpedo attack.

Since the incident, South Korea has also stopped relief groups from sending aid to the North except on a handful of occasions.

Lee said the government "reviewed opinions from related offices, the purpose of the visit and the overall inter-Korean relations" before turning down the request.

Robert Einhorn, a senior U.S. envoy, has already begun to hold consultations in Seoul on fresh sanctions to punish North Korea.

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