South puts rice aid to North on hold in protest

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South puts rice aid to North on hold in protest

The South Korean government has stepped on the brakes for a large shipment of rice destined for North Korea.

A Ministry of Unification spokesman said yesterday that the ministry postponed the authorization to transport 602 tons of flood-aid rice from South Gyeongsang to North Korea. The North is still trying to recover from severe flooding that hit the northern regions of the impoverished country this summer.

The decision to postpone shipments of rice to the North came because most of the 1 billion won ($900,000) in rice-aid funds came from the province’s finances, which in turn came from taxes paid by citizens.

Also, the government is sticking to its hard-line policy toward the North, which it said will remain intact until Pyongyang offers an apology for the sinking of the South Korean warship, Cheonan.

The ministry believes that if rice from South Gyeongsang is allowed to go to the North, it will pave the way for more aid to go to North Korea from other regional governments with money to spend. The central government’s policy is to prevent aid paid with taxpayer money from going to the North.

Rice aid has also created some difficulties for the government with recent reports on the difficulties of distributing rice once it gets to North Korea.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek also said earlier this month that North Korea’s military has saved up to 1 million tons of rice for its officials and soldiers.

The South Korean Red Cross sent 5,000 tons of rice in emergency aid to North Korea in September, a humanitarian gesture that came after months of silence between the two Koreas since the warship sinking.

By Christine Kim []
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