Pyongyang rejects aid from local civic group

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Pyongyang rejects aid from local civic group

North Korea on Monday rejected a South Korean civic group’s offer to visit Pyongyang and provide humanitarian aid, suggesting the two sides talk “after inter-Korean relations improve.”

The Korean Sharing Movement, which won approval from the South Korean government late last month to engage in private person-to-person communication with the North, had asked for Pyongyang’s permission to send a delegation on Saturday to share malaria prevention medication, but the request was denied.

Director Hong Sang-young said the North was “infuriated” by a recently passed UN Security Council resolution sanctioning its officials and companies, and questioned Seoul’s sincerity in establishing friendly grounds with the regime.

“North Korea expressed ‘regret’ about South Korea’s stance on the resolution,” Hong explained. “They said there were internal opinions about whether the timing was right to engage with the South.”

Seoul welcomed the Security Council resolution, which was passed unanimously by the 15-member group on Friday in New York, saying it “supports” the vote and will continue efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

Pyongyang’s rejection of humanitarian aid is a red light for the domestic political scene and a blow to President Moon Jae-in’s two-track approach of pressuring the regime to scrap its weapons programs while engaging in bilateral talks and allowing private person-to-person communication between the two countries.

The president’s Democratic Party and two opposition blocs in the legislature had agreed on Monday to support a resolution calling for a reunion between family members separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to be held on Aug. 15, when South Korea celebrates the peninsula's liberation from Japan at the end of World War II.

The reunions have not occurred since October 2015.

North Korea has yet to respond to the news. Earlier on Sunday, it had urged the South Korean government to distance itself from the United States and scrap the antagonistic policies of Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye.

President Moon has made clear he would deviate from his predecessor’s hard-line stance on the North.

The agreement on family reunions was made after National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun invited the floor leaders of the Democratic, Bareun and People’s parties to his office for policy discussions.

The largest opposition party, the Liberty Korea Party, boycotted the meeting to protest last week’s vote confirming Lee Nak-yon as prime minister despite their objections.

During the vote, party members walked out of the room, demanding Moon withdraw his nomination of Lee because of the candidate’s past ethical transgressions.

Rep. Kang Hoon-sik, spokesman for the Democratic Party, said the three parties would try to persuade Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader and acting chairman of the Liberty Korea Party, to join the push for an inter-Korean family reunion.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Unification was scheduled to give four more local civic groups permission to contact North Koreans on Monday, bringing the total number of such approvals to 15 since Moon took office. The Park administration had prohibited any talks since January 2016 after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test.

The ministry reiterated Seoul’s stance that it would respond firmly to provocations from the North while reviewing possible humanitarian support and exchanges at the private level.

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