About the Author
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MoU) on Tuesday approved humanitarian aid to North Korea for the first time this year, a spokesperson announced on Wednesday.
The MoU said it would allow the nonprofit Eugene Bell Foundation to ship multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) medication to the DPRK.
“We comprehensively considered the facts including ‘urgency of MDR-TB treatment,’ ‘necessity for continuity,’ and ‘no possibility of infection apart from tuberculosis [TB] patients,’ and came to a conclusion,” Jeong Joon-hee, an MoU spokesperson, said at a regular news briefing.
The Unification Ministry said the government’s stance on humanitarian aid remained “unchanged.”
“Our basic position is to continue to provide humanitarian aid for the vulnerable including infants and pregnant women,” Jeong said.
Stephen Linton, Chairman of Eugene Bell Foundation, previously said that the MoU had suggested it would not allow the shipment to go ahead.
At a news conference on December 22, Linton said that an MoU official had told him that he could “go and ask Kim Jong Un” about the reason for the disapproval.
When Linton accused the MoU of lacking a “mature humanitarian policy,” the MoU insisted the government was “positively considering” his request.
Linton declined to directly comment on Tuesday’s news.
“All we can reveal is that we hope to send our medications the end of Feb or beginning of March, that we hope to visit in May,” Linton told NK News. “And that we will continue to encourage positive consideration of our patient ward project because infection control is an important part of treatment.”
Despite the MoU granting permission for the medication to be shipped, another Eugene Bell request for the shipment of construction materials to build medical facilities in Pyongyang – originally submitted on December 20 – might not be approved by the government.
With regard to the disallowance, an MoU official who wished to remain anonymous told NK News that Eugene Bell had asked permission once again on Friday and had then withdrawn the plan.
Linton said he planned to build “at least 60 units of a sanitarium” to treat tuberculosis in the Sadong District of Pyongyang in 2017 at a news conference back in December.
Eugene Bell, in coordination with South Korean company SY TECH, has been designing prefabricated treatment camps in the North, Linton added, and hopes to bring them to North Korea this year.
The MoU approved humanitarian aid from Eugene Bell twice last year, and it is the only NGO based in the South which sent help to the North in 2016.
In contrast, the MoU disallowed the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK) from meeting the North Korean side in a third country to discuss flood repair cooperation in September.
As a result, KNCCK, a confederation of 54 local nongovernmental organizations, sent relief funds for flood victims to the International Red Cross (IRC).
“It’s a good thing that Eugene Bell can still provide support… But we also are considering the issue of fairness, which is obvious to everyone,” Kwak Young-joo, a representative of KNCCK, told NK News.
“South Korean NGOs providing aid to the North are ready to send support, but we’ve suspended our activities for a long time,” Kwak said. “I am frustrated, but I am expecting to see changes this year.”
Featured Image: Okedongmu Children in Korea, Taken at Kaesong on October 1, 2010