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SKorea Vows to Send Aid to North       05/20 06:17

   South Korea vowed Monday to move quickly on plans to provide $8 million 
worth of medical and nutritional aid for North Korean children through U.N. 
agencies while it also considers sending broader food aid to the country, which 
says it is suffering its worst drought in decades.

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea vowed Monday to move quickly on plans 
to provide $8 million worth of medical and nutritional aid for North Korean 
children through U.N. agencies while it also considers sending broader food aid 
to the country, which says it is suffering its worst drought in decades.

   Lee Sang-min, spokesman for Seoul's Unification Ministry, said the 
government will discuss its plans with the World Food Program and the United 
Nations Children's Fund, through which the aid would be provided, so it reaches 
North Korean children and pregnant women quickly. South Korea is also trying to 
build public and political support for providing wider food aid to North Korea, 
either directly or through the WFP.

   North Korea's state media said last week that the country was suffering its 
worst drought in more than a century amid reported food shortages.

   "The government will first discuss with international organizations over the 
provision of aid and take measures so that the support arrives (in North Korea) 
quickly," Lee said. "On the matter of direct aid, we will consider the matter 
while sufficiently garnering the opinions of our citizens."

   South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed hopes that aid will help 
revive diplomacy and engagement with North Korea, which tapered off after a 
nuclear summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald 
Trump in February broke down because of differences over sanctions relief and 
disarmament steps. Kim has since declared that the Trump administration has 
until the end of the year to come up with mutually acceptable terms for a deal 
to salvage the negotiations.

   While the United States has urged allies to maintain economic pressure on 
North Korea until it takes material steps toward relinquishing its nuclear 
weapons, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders recently said Washington has no 
plan to "intervene" if South Korea moves forward with food aid.

   But Moon's government has yet to decide on concrete plans amid growing 
public frustration over Kim's government, which recently resumed short-range 
missile tests that were apparently aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul.

   It is also unclear whether any aid package from South Korea would influence 
the behavior of North Korea, which has been demanding much bigger concessions 
from the South, such as resuming inter-Korean economic projects currently held 
back by the U.S.-led sanctions against the North. A North Korean propaganda 
website last week described the South Korean proposals for humanitarian aid as 
disrespectful and said Seoul was trying to sidestep fundamental issues with 
"hollow talk and boastful credit-taking."

   North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said last Wednesday that 
an average of 54.4 millimeters (2.1 inches) of rain fell in North Korea from 
January to early May, which it said was the lowest level since 1982. Two days 
later, the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the average precipitation of 
56.3 millimeters (2.2 inches) from January to May 15 was the country's lowest 
since 1917.

   U.N. food agencies said earlier this month that about 10 million people were 
facing "severe food shortages" after one of North Korea's worst harvests in a 
decade.

   North Korean state media are urging farmers to do their best with what they 
have, to grow as much as possible this year. The Rodong Sinmun urged North 
Korean farmers on Saturday to meet state goals in food production in the face 
of "hostile forces who don't want us to become prosperous and ... are seeking 
to make our people undergo shortage of food, bring to collapse their faith in 
socialism."

   "At our farm, we got an announcement about the dry weather conditions from 
our party and our state authorities, so we have taken advance measures to save 
water, like preparing the fields earlier than before, because we have to save 
water as much as we can," said Kim Chang Jun, vice chairman of a cooperative 
farm in the village of Sambong, just outside the capital.

   The last time South Korea provided humanitarian aid to North Korea through 
an international agency was in 2015, when it gave $800,000 to a U.N. Population 
Fund project to evaluate North Korean public health conditions.

   South Korea has not provided direct food aid to North Korea since 2010.

   Moon's government first proposed providing $8 million to the WFP and UNICEF 
to help North Korean children and pregnant women in 2017, but the plans were 
halted amid a series of North Korean weapons tests that year. An abrupt turn 
toward diplomacy in 2018 saw Kim meet with Trump twice and three times with 
Moon.


(KA)

 
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