Under the agreement, the Ministry will hand over to the Korean Red Cross responsibility for arranging the meetings of separated families, providing financial support for the exchange of separated families, humanitarian supplies such as fertilizer, flood relief and the return to North Korea bodies which have drifted south in floods. The agreement has provoked criticism from pundits who claim that the government is trying to open the way to help Pyongyang despite the North's nuclear test and expanding aid projects at the expense of government funds.
The move follows Minister Lee's promises to divorce aid issues from politics. Upon taking office last December, Minister Lee said that support such as rice and fertilizer is simply an "humanitarian issue" and that he would look for ways to continue such assistance to North Korea without it being interrupted by political events.
"These projects were already being carried out by the Red Cross," an official in the unification ministry said, explaining that the agreement was simply making the practices official. "The government, including the Unification Ministry, will continue to handle North Korean issues such as policy-making, coordination with relevant departments and negotiations," the official said.
During a ceremony to mark the signing of the agreement, Minister Lee said, "I hope to raise awareness of these humanitarian projects, thereby galvanizing more support from the public." President Han from the Red Cross said, "Humanitarian support should go beyond market principles or simple reciprocity." He added that the signing of the agreement would open opportunities in improving ties between the two Koreas.