Lee said the administration will provide grain to the UN agency to feed North Koreans vulnerable to famine. The South has made no donation to the WFP for the North since 2004, when aid was suspended after bilateral assistance grew.
The South will also provide 10,500 tons of rice to the North to complete a disrupted shipment of 100,000 tons designated as relief to flood victims in 2006. That aid was suspended after the North's October 2006 nuclear test.
The announcement seemed to coincide with the imminent resolution of a dispute involving North Korean funds frozen in Macao's Banco Delta Asia, but Lee denied there was any connection.
"Some may say that the government decided to resume aid because the Banco Delta Asia issue is showing progress, but that has nothing to do with it," Lee said.
The administration, Lee said, is sticking to an earlier decision to withhold a promise of 400,000 tons of bilateral rice aid until there is progress on the nuclear issue.
"Providing rice in the form of a loan to the North and providing food aid through the World Food Program are different," Lee said. "The 400,000 tons of rice is a loan, but the WFP aid is an urgent humanitarian relief package."
Representative Lee Ju-young, the Grand Nationals' chief policy maker, criticized the decision. "The inter-Korean ministerial talks ended without progress only a few days ago. This is a very hasty decision, and it should be reconsidered," Lee said.
At the same press briefing, Lee also tried to clarify earlier remarks that some South Korean kidnap victims in the North had actually crossed the border voluntarily. Angry family members of abduction victims held protests in front of Lee's house and office Wednesday.
"What I wanted to say is that the abduction issue here is different from that of Japan," Lee said. While Japan and North Korea agree that Japanese civilians had been kidnapped, North Korea has insisted that it never abducted South Koreans.
"South Korea officially states that 480 of its citizens are still in the North," Lee said. "The North has said it did not kidnap them, and we have insisted that they were kidnapped against their will. I think there are reasons for such a difference in opinion."
He also used the term, "whose whereabouts were unaccounted for since the Korean War," to describe the South Koreans in the North rather than calling them kidnap victims. In past talks on the repatriation of such South Koreans, Pyongyang has insisted on the use of the ambiguous term.
"The government will continue its efforts for the humanitarian repatriation of these people," Lee said.
By Ser Myo-ja
- JoongAng Daily
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