Confusion Over Food Aid to N.Korea

      November 04, 2009 10:03

      There has been no response from North Korea to South Korea's offer of 10,000 tons of corn nine days since it was made, but the Unification Ministry said it is "taking the necessary steps" to send the aid. A South Korean committee that oversees cooperative projects with the North is to meet later this week to approve W4 billion (US$1=W1,182) to be withdrawn from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund to make the corn delivery possible. Seoul plans to buy the corn from China.

      Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters on Tuesday, "We have no plans to send another message to North Korea asking for a response." In other words, Seoul is taking steps to send the aid without verifying whether it wants it or not. In May last year, North Korea rejected an offer of 50,000 tons of corn, and it was not sent.

      Talks with North Korea "need to take place about the aid, and in that process, we will be able to verify North Korea's intention," Chun said. But one North Korea expert said, "It makes no sense to buy the corn first and then ask North Korea how it wants the aid sent before we even know whether it will accept it."

      Meanwhile, a high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official said in a closed-door seminar last Wednesday, "North Korea originally demanded 100,000 tons of corn, and when we offered 10,000 tons, the North Koreans were surprised. The North even pointed out a specific location for us to deliver the corn." The Unification Ministry vehemently denies that. Ministry officials say North Korea merely asked for "humanitarian assistance" and did not mention specific amounts or types of aid in Red Cross talks last month.

      Asked about the disagreement, a ministry official merely said, "Cheong Wa Dae has promised to explain the matter." That has given rise to speculation that there are other secret contacts going on besides a rumored meeting in Singapore to discuss an inter-Korean summit.

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