Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Tuesday that the government’s plans to send food assistance to North Korea will adhere to humanitarian principles and pledged to separate the action from wider political goals.
“Providing humanitarian aid is (a matter of) humanitarian principles, no more, no less. The international community’s universal consensus is that humanitarian aid should be separated from politics,” Kim told reporters in his first media briefing since he took office April 8.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul speaks during a press briefing held in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Explaining the government’s stance, Kim quoted former US President Ronald Reagan, who said in 1985, “A hungry child knows no politics.” Reagan made the remarks when he finally approved famine relief for Ethiopia amid a controversy that led to delays.
“A massive number of Ethiopians starved to death because the US did not send assistance for political reasons,” Kim said.
The minister added that the United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea sanctions also states that the activities of humanitarian organizations should not be constricted.
On Friday, the ministry vowed to move quickly on its plan to provide $8 million worth of humanitarian aid for pregnant women and children there through UNICEF and the World Food Program.
The government is planning to send aid to North Korea before October. But Pyongyang has not yet responded to Seoul’s proposal for the assistance, according to a ministry official.
Some analysts expected that the South’s move may help revitalize its relations with the North which have been lukewarm after a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended with no deal in Vietnam in February.
Starting May 14, the Unification Ministry began assessing public opinion, which it intends to take into consideration when deciding on the timing of assistance, method of delivery and amount to be provided. Kim met with civic group leaders and religious leaders to discuss the matter.
While calling the food aid project the ministry’s most pressing issue, Kim said he also has a keen interest in reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
“As soon as I took office, I have stressed the separated family issue many times. The problem is that they only have very limited time,” he said. Nearly 133,000 people in the South have applied to meet relatives in the North. Only 57,000 are still alive, and many are in their 80s or older.
On April 30, the government completed renovation of 13 conference centers across the nation with the intention of arranging video reunions.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org