South Korean private group to send 100 million won of aid to North

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South Korean private group to send 100 million won of aid to North

Seoul’s Unification Ministry granted a private aid organization permission to dispatch 100 million won ($81,000) worth of hand sanitizer to the North - the first time South Korea has dispatched humanitarian aid to North Korea to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

A ministry official told reporters Thursday that the private entity was granted permission for the aid on Tuesday, though no details were given as to how and when the items would be sent. The identity of the organization was also withheld for privacy purposes.

The aid will mostly consist of hand sanitizer and other health care products, but will not include face masks, which have been rationed in South Korea due to heavy public demand.

United Nations sanctions forbid the transfer of a variety of products like luxury goods, weapons-related materials or fuel to North Korea, but there are no restrictions on products related to humanitarian aid.

The South Korean government, which provided the North with humanitarian assistance multiple times last year through international organizations, has yet to dispatch its own aid to fight Covid-19. It is, however, reviewing requests by multiple other private groups in the country seeking to help the North, the official said.

North Korea denies it has any coronavirus infections in the country, though observers have doubts about this claim. In January, the regime closed its borders with China and Russia to prevent the spread of the virus from overwhelming its ill-equipped health care system.

It also shut down the two Koreas’ liaison office in Kaesong, close to the demilitarized zone, effectively ceasing all contact with the South amid a surge of virus cases in South Korea earlier this year.

But the North’s state media has been keenly attentive to the coronavirus situation around the globe, and the regime reportedly urged humanitarian groups around the world for items like diagnostic kits for the virus.

News reports from South Korea and Japan alleged that North Korea has seen fatalities due to Covid-19, leading to authorities imposing quarantine in affected areas. One report from Daily NK, a South Korean outlet focused on North Korean news, said around 200 soldiers had died due to the virus, causing an “uproar” in the country’s military establishment.

Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un himself admitted the medical infrastructure conditions in the country were “bad” and that urgent work was required to expedite construction on a general hospital in Pyongyang.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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