Group visits North to check aid

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Group visits North to check aid

A delegation of the Eugene Bell Foundation, an international organization that offers medical assistance to North Korea, yesterday visited the reclusive state to monitor if the aid is being distributed to those in need.

“A total of eight sponsors and doctors, including the chairman of the foundation, took a flight from China at 2 p.m.,” an official at the foundation told Korea JoongAng Daily by phone. “They should arrive in Pyongyang at around 4 p.m. Although the schedule will be flexible, they will visit our eight tuberculosis medical centers in North Korea,” the official said. “They will possibly stay there until early May and return to the South no later than May 10.”

In South Korea, all citizens need permission from the government to visit the North for any purpose.

According to the foundation, tuberculosis medicine worth 678 million won ($604,925), which could treat 800 patients, was shipped on March 22 via China. The medicine arrived in Nampo, a western port city of North Korea, on April 4. South Korea’s Unification Ministry has approved the shipments. It was the first approval for humanitarian aid by a private civic group under the Park Geun-hye administration, while tensions are still high between the two Koreas with a flurry of bellicose rhetoric from the North.

The foundation, chaired by Stephen Linton, runs a total of eight tuberculosis treatment centers in North Korea, including in the capital Pyongyang. The organization has provided tuberculosis medicine only for North Korean patients once or twice a year, even under the Lee Myung-bak administration, when inter-Korean relations were frosty.

The delegation planned to stay in North Korea for three weeks and visit their eight local centers to monitor distribution of the medicines for civilians. Eyes were on whether North Korea would approve their visit, coming just a day after the regime denied the entrance of South Korean businessmen into the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a jointly-run factory park in Kaesong, North Korea.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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