August 07, 2020 10:32
The government on Thursday approved a US$10 million aid package for North Korea through the UN World Food Programme as the crackpot country teeters on the brink of famine.
In a meeting chaired by Unification Minister Lee In-young, the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council also greenlit a "peace park" in the demilitarized zone that will cost some W20 billion over the next three years (US$1=W1,186).
The decision comes less than two months after the North Korean regime blew up the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, ostensibly in a fit of fury over a leaflet campaign by South Korean activists.
The $10 million-donation to the WFP will be used to provide 90 million tons of nutritional supplements for small children and pregnant women in North Korea as well as 3,600 tons of corn, beans and cooking oil.
The donation was supposed to be made in June but put off as cross-border relations deteriorated. The Unification Ministry said the WFP asked for the donation and claimed it made sure that it breaches no international sanctions against the North.
Lee added it "will serve as a starting point for the government to consistently provide humanitarian aid to the North regardless of the political and military situation."
The government will also spend about W19.85 billion on turning parts of the DMZ around some now-demolished guard posts in Paju into a park. W2.89 billion will be spent this year, W3.27 billion in 2021, and W13.7 billion in 2022.
Lee has been in office for less than a month but seems eager to distinguish himself from his predecessor, who achieved no cross-border contacts at all and saw the liaison office blown up on his watch.
"As soon as he took office, Lee has been accelerating aid projects for the North," said Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University. "There must have been reasons why his predecessors were reluctant to push for these projects. If he moves too fast he risks violating international sanctions and causing friction with Washington."
The vaguely defined peace zone has also riled critics. Prof. Park Won-gon of Handong Global University said, "The DMZ is a sensitive area where North Korean border guards only recently shot at a South Korean guard post, which raises fears for the safety of any South Korean visitors."
"There's no point building a new facility in the DMZ without prior agreement with Pyongyang," he added.
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