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JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
“We will knock on the door of the government until it opens,” Kwak Young-joo, a representative of Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK) told NK News on Friday.
The NGO Council, made up of 54 South Korean organizations, faced criticism from the South Korean government when it had announced it would be sending flood relief to North Korea.
“While the North was claiming to have suffered the worst cataclysm since (1945) liberation, consider the fact that Kim Jong Un was smiling at the satellite rocket engine test site,” Jung Joon-hee, a Ministry of Unification (MoU) spokesperson said on Wednesday.
“We have to ask ourselves if now is the appropriate time – considering Pyongyang’s two-faced attitude – for the KNCCK to make such a move.”
Kwak said that he has not heard from the MoU since its Wednesday statement, but that the money for their North Korean flood relief project is close to reaching its goal.
“Our goal was to reach around 200 million won (around 181,400 U.S. dollars) until the end of September, we have made over 150 million so far,” he said, adding that this is just the first of many relief projects to come from the Council.
WHY WE ARE FUNDING OUR “ENEMY”
Voices urging Seoul’s involvement in the record-breaking North Korean flood have repeatedly been condemned for fear that money or resources sent to the North might be siphoned off for the favor of the regime.
The Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC) is affiliated with current and former South Korean lawmakers, and are planning to limit their aid to children’s winter clothes.
But for KNCCK, human life comes before the politics.
“We are not trying to get involved in any politics, ideology or some other shady business,” Kwak emphasized. “KNCCK’s identity lies in providing humanitarian help.”
“The council is made of 54 other NGOs that share the same view, and we worry the fact that our attempts to provide humanitarian aid are often interpreted to have ties with the politics.”
While the South Korean government has frequently criticized the Council’s work, Kwak said that they do not hold any grudges.
“We do understand the government’s stance,” he said. “They need to state that our attempts are rather ‘inappropriate’ – as they have to interpret the events based on political thinking. However, we do not have any political foundation, thus are not tied to such.”
“Seoul’s stance is within the boundaries of politics, while KNCCK is trying to practice humanitarianism, and that is all.”
A recent South Korean poll showed that more than half of respondents are against aiding the North, as it counter-weights the South’s efforts to undermine the North Korean government through harsh sanctions.
Kwak said it may take some time for the majority of South Koreans to sympathize with human angle before putting politics first.
“People have been swept away by torrents, houses were destroyed, leaving almost nothing to those who have survived the disaster,” he said. “Most of the flood struck regions will soon drop below zero Celsius in the following month. The temperature in Seoul is still cool, and I hope that our point of view can lean more towards humanitarianism once residents of the South feels the coldness as well.”
MONEY IN KIM JONG UN’S POCKET?
One of biggest worries that South Koreans have about aiding the North lies in its transparency, as the money or relief can end up in the hands of the North Korean government and provide help to the process of nuclear and missile development.
KNCCK said they are taking steps to make the process as transparent as they can.
“We are currently making contacts with two foreign NGOs that are already doing relief work in the North,” Kwak said. “We can’t share all the details about the progress as it involves third parties, but we have requested the transparency report in return as the mandatory option.”
The council is currently waiting for the answer from partner NGOs, and as soon as the negotiation is closed, the fund will soon be sent to an NGO who will be using the money for the relief work.
To completely prevent the possibility of the money being misused for other purposes, Kwak said the council originally thought of purchasing individual items and sending them. But with the cold winter on its way, Kwak said the time is of the essence.
“The council has decided to send the cash as fast as possible to the NGO, who would have a far clearer idea of what the North Korean people are in need of,” he said.
“We have to think of it this way, what item would they ‘not be’ in need? They need everything, from the simple household items to boil their food during the winter to the children’s underclothes. The condition for using our money is limited to providing supply for the North Koreans in the flood struck regions.”
SEOUL UNDER PRESSURE
Seoul has come under a crossfire of criticism from multiple media and parties for its decision to not aid flood victims, NK News previously reported.
On the day NK News spoke with Kwak, the MoU was facing tough questions from members of the press.
“What I am wondering is if the Seoul government is thinking of the option to seize the moral high ground over Pyongyang, by putting more deep thoughts into the humanitarian matters like this,” an unnamed reporter said after a lengthy criticism over Seoul’s current policy.
Jung Joon-hee, a MoU spokesperson, responded saying that whether “the help came from the outside or the North helping themselves, the dictator would be the one gets all the credit.”
But Kwak explained that the government in recent years had been a major supporter of their relief work.
“Four years ago, when the North was hit by the flood, the South first asked to provide aid to the North. Pyongyang at the time refused to be supported directly by Seoul, so KNCCK and KCRC bought tons and tons of flour that were later sent to North Korea,” said Kwak.
“Our council alone has sent around 1,000 million won (around 907 000 U.S. dollars) worth of flour, and we have transported them by the land after making contact with the North Korean counterpart.”
The current goal of 200 million won is only one fifth of what they have sent in the past, Kwak said. The council is planning to send more, hopefully with the help of South Korean government.
“Because of the current situation, our first relief of the year is to be done through international NGO’s help,” he said. “But we want our next relief to be done under the supervision of the South Korean government, as we did in 2012.
“Will they change their stance in the future? I don’t know, but we will knock on the door of the government until it opens.”
Featured Image: NK News