The unification minister says he'd consider the move due to widespread malnutrition
The South stopped sending direct aid after the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island
More than 6 million people in North Korea need food aid, the U.N. says
Signaling South Korea may be attempting to cool tensions with its neighbor, Seoul has vowed to actively review sending humanitarian aid to North Korea through third channels.
In a meeting with the U.N. Secretary General in New York, South Korea’s unification minister said he would consider the move amid growing concern over widespread malnutrition in North Korea.
“I will actively look into sending medical supplies to begin with and provide food aid for the young and vulnerable upon my return,” said South Korea’s Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik in a Friday meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Yu added the aid would be sent through international agencies.
Yu came into office in September vowing to create dialog with North Korea with a “firm but flexible” approach.
The Unification Ministry says South Korea stopped sending direct aid to Pyongyang in November 2010 after it accused North Korea of shelling Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans.
Seoul offered flood aid this year through the Red Cross but the aid was not delivered after North Korea failed to respond on whether they would accept supplies different from what they asked for.
The current move from Seoul comes weeks after a U.N. humanitarian aid official visited North Korea and urged the international community for increased support towards malnourished North Koreans.
More than 6 million people in the isolated state need food aid and one in three children are chronically malnourished, according to Valerie Amos, the U.N. under-secretary-general for Humanitarian affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
In the past, South Korea has sent aid through the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international agencies to the North.
The last time Seoul offered aid through such organizations was in 2009, the Unification Ministry said.
The announcement is seen as a move to ease tensions between the North and South, but some analysts are skeptical.
“I think it’s just words,” Professor Yang Moo-jin at the University of North Korean Studies said.
Yang believes the Lee Myung-bak administration is trying to earn respect in the global community but is not sincere in its engagement with Pyongyang.
By offering aid through international agencies, Seoul is choosing a more indirect method of dealing with the North, Yang said.
“How is that supposed to help improve relations?” Yang said. “It’s to appease the critics, not to truly work on improving things with North Korea.”