South Korea has no intention of resuming its food aid to North Korea, an official said yesterday, a day after the ruling party chief questioned whether the assistance should restart because of recent flooding in the impoverished North.
For a decade, South Korea was a major donor of food to the North, before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s conservative government halted unconditional assistance after taking office in early 2008. Lee’s government also cut nearly all trade with North Korea after tension spiked over March’s deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang.
The North’s economy is in shambles and the country has relied on outside food aid to feed much of its 24 million people. The North’s chronic food shortage was feared to worsen after flooding from an overflowing river over the weekend swamped farmland, houses and public buildings in the North’s northwestern city of Sinuiju.
On Sunday night, ruling Grand National Party (GNP) chief Ahn Sang-soo asked the government whether Seoul should resume its food aid to North Korea, citing the latest flooding during a regular meeting with government and presidential officials. Government representatives who took part in the meeting responded that they would review the matter, according to a GNP statement.
However, the Unification Ministry — which handles relations with North Korea — said yesterday it has no immediate plans to resume food aid to the North.
“Currently, the government is not considering the issue of resuming rice aid to North Korea,” ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters.
Chun said South Korea’s position on assistance to North Korea remains the same, though he said he would not comment on the GNP statement.
More than 5,000 people were evacuated in Sinuiju because of the flooding triggered after heavy rains over the last several days caused the Yalu River to breach its banks, according to North’s state media.
Much of North Korea’s trade with the world passes through the city, forming a vital lifeline for the economically struggling country. Flooding in previous years has destroyed crops and pushed the North deeper into poverty, increasing its dependence on food aid.
Meanwhile, North Korea kept up its criticism yesterday against Lee’s government over its detention of a Christian activist arrested last week after he returned from an unauthorized trip to the North.
The North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper in a commentary called the arrest a “brutal suppression of reunification and patriotism.”
Officials say the activist faces up to seven years in prison if convicted of violating the South’s security law that bans citizens from having unauthorized contact with the North and supporting its communist regime.
In other developments from the peninsula, the North has developed camouflage materials such as stealth paint to hide its warships, tanks or fighter jets from foreign reconnaissance satellites and aircraft, the Chosun Ilbo reported yesterday.
A confidential field manual used by the North’s military showed the regime has also built a network of foxholes and caves, the Seoul newspaper reported.
The handbook, printed in 2005, was smuggled out of the North by a source through Caleb Mission, a South Korean Christian group. It gives detailed instructions on how to make and apply the stealth paint, which absorbs radar waves, Chosun Ilbo said.
The South’s defence ministry confirmed the North’s military had used the manual for years.
“We have already acquired a copy of the manual and are fully aware of the North’s tactics,” a ministry spokesman said.
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