Fertilizer aid for North approved

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Fertilizer aid for North approved

For the first time in five years, the South Korean government approved on Monday a private charity group sending fertilizer aid to the North. It will be the first fertilizer shipment since the South imposed economic sanctions over the North’s sinking of a warship, the Cheonan, in 2010.

“When we approved the Ace Gyeongam Foundation’s application to visit the North for its project to build greenhouses, we also approved its plan to provide 15 tons of fertilizer to the North,” said an official of the Ministry of Unification.

Until now, Seoul has barred fertilizer aid under the economic sanctions better known as its May 24 measures. Only humanitarian aid for the population at large had been allowed.

“Based on the [President Park Geun-hye’s] Dresden declaration, which included proposals for agricultural and livestock cooperation between the two Koreas, we allowed the project,” the official said. “We approved the fertilizer shipment as a part of the greenhouse project.”

The May 24 measures, imposed by the Lee Myung-bak administration in the aftermath of the sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan warship in March 2010, freezes most government-level interactions and aid for North Korea. Visiting North Korea has been strictly forbidden and only a few civic groups were allowed to visit with humanitarian aid

Fresh grains and fertilizer shipments to the North were barred in particular because of the possibility that they would be diverted to the military.

Seoul said it will allow civic groups’ small-scale fertilizer aids when transparency is guaranteed, but it does not consider resuming large-scale fertilizer aid to the North for the time being.

In the past, the South routinely provided fertilizer aid in time for the North’s farming seasons, but major shipments stopped in 2007. The last fertilizer aid to the North by a private charity was sent in April, 2010.

The ministry approved Ace Gyeongam’s proposal to provide 200 million won ($186,237) worth of goods, including the fertilizer, as well as an application for a group of seven officials from the charity to visit the North for the greenhouse project.

Ace Gyeongam Foundation’s head Ahn Yoo-soo and six others will visit Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and return around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, said Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesperson from the Unification Ministry.

The foundation is a North Korean charity arm of Ace Bed, one of the country’s largest furniture makers, which was founded by Ahn. Sariwon is Ahn’s hometown.

Ahn built 50 greenhouses in his hometown in 2009 and 50 more last year. This year he plans to add another 50.

The ministry’s approval of the fertilizer shipment came at a sensitive time. The announcement was made shortly after a Korea-U.S. joint military drill ended on Friday. Pyongyang has issued a series of criticisms of the exercise.

The ministry also eased requirements to operate North Korea relief programs. In order to boost inter-Korean exchanges in the civilian sector, the ministry lowered the bar so that civic groups with no history of North Korea assistance projects can start humanitarian aid programs.

BY CHUN SU-JIN, SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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