Unification minister: ‘Actively considering’ aid for North Korea

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Unification minister: ‘Actively considering’ aid for North Korea

NEW YORK - South Korea will “actively consider” providing humanitarian aid to North Korea through the United Nations, Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik said here Friday.

In a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Yu and Ban discussed the need to help out the impoverished communist regime.

Afterward, Yu said Ban expressed concern about malnutrition among North Korean infants and children, and the secretary general told him that helping North Korea would benefit all Korean people in the long term.

“I have been considering resuming humanitarian aid to North Korea, such as provision of medicines and medical equipment, through international agencies,” Yu said. “Once I return to Korea, I will actively consider giving aid, starting with medicines and medical equipment and moving on to food for infants and children.”

South Korea halted its aid to North Korea in May last year in response to North Korea’s torpedoing of the Cheonan that killed 46 men. Seoul has since allowed private groups to deliver relief goods to the North after devastating floods this summer.

In October this year, South Korea scrapped a plan to provide emergency relief aid to North Korean flood victims after the North failed to respond to a South Korean offer of baby food, biscuits and instant noodles. The North had earlier asked for food, cement and heavy construction equipment, a request rejected by the South.

Yu said he hoped aid provisions would help “resolve the strained inter-Korean relations and lower tension, creating an atmosphere that would allow dialogue to solve problems.”

A ministry official, though, cautioned against premature optimism.

“Even if we resume giving aid through UN bodies, it will be an effort to increase flexibility,” the official said. “The basis of our sanctions from last May will not be affected.”

South Korea previously gave aid through such UN agencies as Unicef, the World Health Organization and the International Vaccine Institute.

North Korea has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s, when a massive famine claimed an estimated two million lives. The UN World Food Program recently said a third of North Korean children under five were chronically malnourished.

Meanwhile, 21 North Koreans were found aboard a boat off South Korea’s west coast earlier this week, officials said Saturday, the latest in a string of North Korean defections.

The five-ton wooden boat carrying the North Korean family members, including children, was spotted by a South Korean Navy vessel in the Yellow Sea on Sunday, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The boat was drifting in waters some 38 kilometers (24 miles) south of the tense western maritime border surrounded by Chinese fishing boats, indicating the defectors intended to hide from view of the North Korean authorities. The North Koreans expressed to the Korea Coast Guard their wish to defect and were transferred to a patrol ship to be taken to Incheon, west of Seoul, for questioning by South Korean officials.

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