August 24, 2010 10:11
Grand National Party Chairman Ahn Sang-soo has proposed sending rice aid to North Korean flood victims. He made the suggestion in a meeting between the ruling party leadership and the government on Sunday.
The leader of the traditionally conservative Liberty Forward Party, Lee Hoi-chang, on Monday also urged humanitarian aid for flood-hit regions in the North.
Lee told senior party members that flood damage will bring the North, which is already suffering a food shortage, "to the brink of starvation." He urged the government to send humanitarian aid from South Korea's surplus stockpile.
But he added the aid "must be strictly humanitarian," and nobody should see it as a sign that the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan is forgiven and forgotten. "Food aid is one thing and sanctions against the North for attacking the ship are another," he added.
But the government appears unwilling to loosen the thumbscrews. Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters the government "is not currently considering any rice aid to the North."
Since the sinking of the Cheonan, "there has been no change, in principle, in the government policy to shelve its North Korea aid project but continue supporting babies and infants in the North. Nor does the government have any plan now to consider rice aid," he said.
A security official was baffled by the proposals. "Why are they suddenly talking about rice aid at a time when there has been no change in the North's attitude over the sinking of the Cheonan and when the U.S. is going to set forth additional sanctions against the North soon?"
"What rice are they talking about when our offer [late last year] to give aid of 10,000 tons of corn to the North was refused?" a Cheong Wa Dae official chimed in.
There is no consensus even within the ruling party. The GNP's Ahn himself said, "We must take international relations into consideration now that North Korea sanctions are underway." There was reportedly little support for the idea in Sunday's meeting.
The main opposition Democratic Party has consistently called for humanitarian aid to the North. Some experts say that rice aid to the North would be a better idea than spending about W90 billion (US$1=W1,182) to manage rice stockpiles next year.
In a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on Monday, Yoo Jeong-bok, the nominee for minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said, "We should, of course, think of how to get rid of rice stockpiles. But I think aid is worth considering from the standpoint of humanitarianism and inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation."
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