Aid for North is abruptly called off

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Aid for North is abruptly called off

The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, an association of civic groups working for unification, abruptly canceled an ambitious plan to send fertilizer to North Korea, raising suspicions of pressure from the government amid strained inter-Korean relations.

The council was supposed to hold a special event in central Seoul yesterday to promote its campaign to send 1 million bags of fertilizer, totaling 20,000 metric tons (22,046 short tons), to North Korea to help its farmers and boost its food supply.

But at 8:22 a.m., Hong Sa-duk, chairman of the council, sent text messages to reporters saying the ceremony has been postponed due to lack of preparation.

“With my apology, I inform you that we postponed the event scheduled to be held at Dangun Shrine, Seoul, this afternoon,” Hong said in the text. “The biggest problem was that I pushed forward with the event despite concerns raised at yesterday’s board meeting.

“Due to the delayed updating of our home page, we could not properly arrange the tools for promotion,” he said. “We sent invitations to the event to more than 1,000 guests and heads of 187 organizations by email or texts in the early morning on the day of the occasion. There was too much trouble for us.”

An official of the council said: “There was no pressure from outside or communication with the government over the cancelation. There was no change in our principle to move forward with the plan to send the fertilizer.”

According to the council’s website, the group intended to raise up to 12 billion won ($11 million) for the fertilizer campaign.

But concerns were growing in the government about the campaign as fertilizer is a banned item under the so-called May 24 sanctions imposed by the Lee Myung-bak administration in 2010. The sanctions only approve the sending of humanitarian aid to North Korea, such as medicine or milk powder for underprivileged people. It bans the sending of rice, corn or fertilizer, which could go to the regime’s military.

The campaign was also ill-timed because the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan falls on March 26. The sinking provoked the May 24 sanctions.

On March 7, Unification Ministry spokesman, Kim Eui-do said at a briefing, “We see the council’s plan [for the fertilizer aid] is far from a purely humanitarian assistance,” implying the aid would not be approved.

Still, the spokesman said at the time, “If the council applies for an approval for their campaign, then we could review the plan in detail.”

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]


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