South Korean non-government organizations (NGOs) provided humanitarian aid worth around KRW4.7 billion (USD$4.17 million) to North Korea between January and November this year, the ROK Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced on Tuesday.
The MOU’s Humanitarian Cooperation Bureau said in a written statement that Seoul supported “active civilian exchanges” and continued cooperation with international organizations to ensure humanitarian assistance to the DPRK.
Seoul also guaranteed activities of South Korean NGOs by permitting them to make contact with North Korean citizens and send supplies to Pyongyang, as well as reviewing their visit to Pyongyang “in a flexible manner.”
The MOU said there were 54 cases where Seoul allowed South Korean civic groups engaging in humanitarian aid to make contact with the North Korean side between January and November this year.
A total of six South Korean NGOs provided supplies worth around KRW4.7 billion to the North in a total of 14 separate cases in the same period, the ministry added, without providing details such as the names of the organizations.
During Tuesday’s closed-door briefing, an MOU official explained that Seoul has been “keeping close tabs” on the transparent distribution of supplies sent to the DPRK including tuberculous (TB) treatment drugs, powdered milk, and flour.
This is the first time that a South Korean humanitarian aid group has sent flour to the North since Pyongyang conducted their fourth nuclear test and launched the Kwangmyongsong-4 long-range rocket in January and February 2016 respectively, according to the MOU.
There has been no humanitarian assistance to the North at the government-level since 2017, while South Korean NGOs provided relief supplies worth approximately KRW1.1 billion (USD$974,000) to Pyongyang last year, according to the statistics provided by the MOU.
The data also showed the South Korean government has suspended its humanitarian aid going directly to Pyongyang since 2011, halting its provision of rice, corn, and fertilizer, among others.
During the closed-door briefing, the MOU official said humanitarian aid to the DPRK has been resumed “in earnest” since this September when the Pyongyang Joint Declaration was signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
“It appears that the DPRK also internally overhauled its system on civilian exchanges,” the official told the news briefing, adding inter-Korean cooperation and discussion at the non-governmental level have been activated in the second half of the year.
The official also said the MOU has established “internal procedures” on how to handle a request from NGOs to receive an exemption from the UN sanctions committee before sending relief supplies. The South Korean unification ministry has notified the humanitarian aid organizations of the procedures, the official added.
Members of the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK) — which represents 60 NGOs working in humanitarian aid and engaging in inter-Korean projects — visited the DPRK in November to discuss inter-Korean cooperation projects, for instance.
The KNCCK was prohibited by the South Korean government in September 2016 from making contact with North Korean counterparts in a third country to discuss flood relief.
Another South Korean NGO, the Korean Sharing Movement (KSM) — which has worked in humanitarian aid and inter-Korean cooperation projects since 1996 — also visited Pyongyang between November 28 and December 1.
During the visit, which was the first of its kind since October 2012, the KSM said in a press release issued after the travel that it held discussions with North Korean relevant organizations over various cooperation projects including regional development, therapy for pediatric heart patients, and dentistry.
In Tuesday’s MOU statement, the Humanitarian Cooperation Bureau also reiterated that Seoul has “continuously pushed forward humanitarian assistance targeting North Korean people,” prioritizing the aid for vulnerable groups including children and pregnant women, as well as for public health and medical care support such as the prevention of infectious diseases.
To this end, the South Korean government has pushed ahead with humanitarian assistance to the DPRK at the government-level while supporting active private interchange.
Cooperation with international organizations will be promoted to resolve pending issues, the MOU continued, providing a survey of the situation of DPRK public health and medical care as an example.
In spite of its efforts, the Moon administration has not implemented its plans to provide over USD$8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea via the World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after approving them in September 2017.
Meanwhile, the South Korean unification ministry also announced that more than 1000 North Koreans arrived in the ROK between January and November, a level similar to the same period last year.
The number of North Koreans fleeing to the South between this January and November stood at 1042, only slightly less than the total 1045 North Koreans who defected over the corresponding period in 2017, according to the data provided by the MOU on Tuesday.
The unification ministry said around 1000 to 1500 North Koreans have fled to the South every year since 2012. But its database showed numbers have been dropping since Kim Jong Un assumed power at the end of 2011, decreasing sharply by over 1200 in the first year – from 2706 in 2011 to 1502 at the end of 2012.
Edited by Colin Zwirko
Featured Image: UNICEF
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