Eugene Bell to send TB medicine to the North

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Eugene Bell to send TB medicine to the North

South Korea’s unification ministry has approved an application by the Eugene Bell Foundation Korea to send medication for tuberculosis to North Korea, a government official said Wednesday.

The government on Tuesday gave the green light to the foundation’s request to deliver medical aid to North Korea, but it rejected the agency’s move to send materials to build hospital wards in the new year, according to a ministry official.

The ministry previously said that it was considering the group’s plan to send tuberculosis medication, given the need to treat TB patients. But Seoul said it does not feel it is proper to approve the delivery of construction materials due to the grave security situation on the divided peninsula sparked by North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.

It marked the government’s first approval of humanitarian aid to North Korea in 2017 at a time when Seoul has effectively suspended civilian inter-Korean exchanges and South Koreans’ visits to North Korea since Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January 2016.

“The government has the basic stance that it will continue (to allow civic groups) to offer humanitarian assistance to socially vulnerable people in North Korea such as infants and pregnant women,” Jeong Joon-hee, ministry spokesman, said at a press briefing. “But the size or timing for the aid will be decided after taking into account various factors.”

Stephen Linton, chairman of Eugene Bell Foundation Korea, claimed in December that the government gave an unfavorable response to its request to send TB medication and other materials.

The foundation has long provided medical humanitarian assistance to North Korea, especially for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

In August last year, the group said that a delay in the ministry’s approval of its medical shipment and Pyongyang’s issuance of visas postponed the delivery of its regular spring shipment by about a month.

Since Pyongyang’s nuclear test early last year, only Eugene Bell has received the approval from Seoul to provide assistance to North Korea. It sent a shipment in the middle of 2016 to help North Koreans.

Local civic groups said that the government needs to approve civilian humanitarian assistance to the North even if Seoul keeps its pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang.

A South Korean civic group seeking to hold joint inter-Korean events said that it will request the government to approve its plan to meet with its North Korean counterparts in Shenyang next month to discuss outstanding issues.

Topics for the meeting will include holding football matches for teams from the labor unions of the two countries and the South group’s plan to send rice to the North, it said.

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