Sat, September 23, 2017 | 09:20
Posted : 2017-09-14 17:00
Updated : 2017-09-14 22:02

South mulls $8 mil. humanitarian aid to N. Korea

By Kim Hyo-jin

The Moon Jae-in administration is considering providing $8 million in humanitarian assistance to North Korea through international organizations, a government official said Thursday.

"The government plans to discuss offering $8 million to North Korea at the request of international organizations under the United Nations," a unification ministry official told reporters, asking not to be named.

If agreed to, it would mark the first humanitarian aid in 21 months since the previous Park Geun-hye government sent $800,000 in aid through the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), formerly the U.N. Fund for Population Activities, in December 2015.

Humanitarian aid to the North through international bodies was suspended following Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January 2016.

The ministry official said the plan includes providing $4.5 million for a project to help infants and pregnant women by the World Food Program (WFP) and $3.5 million for UNICEF.

"The government will decide whether to proceed with it, considering the details of the assistance and the timing," he said.

The move comes as the Moon government's basic stance is that humanitarian aid to North Korea should continue regardless of political circumstances, according to the unification ministry.

Pundits view the government intends to send a signal of its commitment to dialogue with the reclusive country, as it would be a rare case of large-scale assistance amid heightened sanctions by the international community.

Controversy over timing

The opposition parties criticized the government over the move to resume aid to North Korea. They questioned the timing of the assistance, noting it comes only two days after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted a new resolution on sanctions on Pyongyang for its sixth nuclear test, Sept. 3.

"Though I agree with it in principle on humanitarian grounds, I doubt it is the right time to do it," People's Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo said.

"The government needs to contemplate if the move can be justified when our country is suffering the most due to the North's nuclear test."

Ryu Yeo-hae, a Supreme Council member of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), wrote on Facebook: "Moon should stop begging for love from the North. If you are that desperate to support them, do it with your private money, not the people's money."

Tokyo also questioned the timing. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga downplayed Seoul's move, calling it an "act to undermine international pressure on North Korea."

"This is not the timing for dialogue as North Korea continues its provocations including the nuclear test on Sept. 3. It is time for the international community to put maximum pressure on the country," Suga said during a regular briefing.

"The UNSC adopted the resolution for stricter sanctions unanimously. Actions that undermine pressure on the North should be refrained from."

Mindful of expected criticism that the aid plan could adversely influence the ongoing international coordination on sanctions against Pyongyang, the unification ministry official stressed, "The United States is also aware of the plan. It will not disrupt the basic trend of international society's pressure on the North."

관련 한글 기사

정부, 국제기구 통해 800만弗 대북인도지원 검토…21일 결정

WFP·유니세프 통한 北취약계층 지원사업…21개월만에 재개 추진

정부가 국제기구를 통해 북한의 모자보건 사업에 800만 달러를 지원하는 방안을 추진한다.

    통일부 당국자는 14일 '유니세프와 WFP(세계식량계획) 등 유엔 산하 국제기구의 요청에 따라 800만 달러를 지원하는 방안에 대해 21일 예정된 교류협력추진협의회에서 논의할 예정'이라고 말했다.

    정부가 검토중인 방안은 WFP의 아동·임산부 대상 영양강화 사업에 450만달러, 유니세프의 아동·임산부 대상 백신 및 필수의약품, 영양실조 치료제 사업에 350만달러 공여 등이다.

    이 당국자는 '구체적인 지원내역 및 추진 시기 등은 남북관계 상황 등 제반 여건을 종합적으로 고려해 결정할 것'이라고 말했다.

    그는 '사실상 결정된 것 아니냐'는 질문에 '보통은 원안대로 가는 경우가 대부분이지만 수정되는 경우도 있어 예단해서 말하기는 어렵다'고 말했다.

    이번 지원이 결정되면 문재인 정부 들어 첫 대북지원이다. 또 국제기구를 통한 대북지원은 2015년 12월 유엔인구기금(UNFPA)의 '사회경제인구 및 건강조사 사업'에 80만 달러를 지원한 이후 21개월 만에 재개되는 것이다.

    국제기구를 통한 대북지원은 보수 정부 때도 이어져 오다 지난해 1월 북한의 4차 핵실험 이후 중단됐다.

    정부가 북한의 6차 핵실험 등 도발이 이어지고 있지만 대북지원을 적극 검토하는 것은 '대북 인도적 지원은 정치적 상황과 관계없이 추진한다'는 원칙에 따른 것이다.

    박근혜 정부도 이런 원칙이 있었지만 북한의 4차 핵실험 이후에는 '지원 규모와 시기 등은 종합적으로 고려해 검토해 나간다'는 단서를 달아 지원하지 않았다. (연합뉴스)