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S.Korea pledges $7M for women, children in North

  • Article by: CHOE SANG-HUN
  • New York Times
  • July 28, 2013 - 7:28 PM

 

– South Korea announced more than $7 million worth of humanitarian aid for North Korea on Sunday, a conciliatory gesture that coincided with a call by the South for “one last round” of make-or-break talks on restarting a jointly operated industrial complex.

The majority of the aid, nearly $6 million, will be provided by the South Korean government and shipped through UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, which provides vaccines, medicine and nutritional supplements for malnourished children and pregnant women in the impoverished North.

Five private humanitarian aid groups from South Korea will provide the remainder. They will also send medicine and food for young children.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, the South’s top policymaker on the North, said the aid shipments were not linked to political issues between the two Koreas.

But the announcement was contained in a statement in which Ryoo also called for a final round of talks with the North to settle disputes over the Kaesong industrial complex, which has been idled since early April.

There was no immediate response from North Korea.

Despite international aid and gradual improvements in the North’s grain production in recent years, more than a quarter of North Korean children under age 5 suffer from chronic malnourishment, according to surveys by the United Nations and international aid groups. South Korean government statistics showed that the North’s infant mortality rates in recent years were several times higher than those in the South.

This month, nongovernmental aid groups in South Korea accused the conservative government of President Park Geun-hye of blocking urgent aid for North Korean children by delaying the approval of their shipment proposals — a charge the South Korean government rejected Sunday.

South Korean government and private aid for North Korea plunged from 439.7 billion won in 2007 to 14.1 billion won last year.

The conservative South Korean governments that have been in power since 2008 have curtailed aid shipments and trade with North Korea, citing its nuclear weapons development and military provocations, like the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010, for which officials in Seoul blamed the North.

The industrial complex, located in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, has been idle since the North pulled out all its 53,000 workers in April, citing military tensions that it said were caused by U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

The two Koreas held six rounds of talks this month on restarting the factory park. The talks ended last week with no agreement to meet again.

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