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Seoul considers allowing civil exchanges with Pyongyang

Posted May. 23, 2017 06:16,   

Updated May. 23, 2017 06:19


With North Korea making a series of test-firings of ballistic missiles, the South Korean government has revealed its intention to partially allow civil exchange with the North. This raises the possibility of alleviating the level of the sanctions against Pyongyang on May 24, 2010, which prohibits all types of human and material exchange with the communist regime, barring the aid on humanitarian purpose.

“The new Moon Jae-in administration is planning to make a strong response to North Korea’s provocations including their missile tests, but it is of a view that severing the inter-Korean ties is not desirable for the stability of the Korean peninsula,” said Lee Deok-hang, spokesperson of the Ministry of Unification during a regular briefing on Monday. “We will exert flexibility in reviewing the major issues between the two Koreas such as private-level exchanges, provided that it stays within the framework of the sanctions against the North imposed by the international community."

An official from the Unification Ministry said that the contact request filed with the ministry from the civic group Korean Sharing Movement, will be approved on Tuesday. As the South Korean government maintains the view that tangible goods-based humanitarian aid or social and cultural exchanges are not in violation of UN sanctions, it appears that the rest of the 10 supporting communities that filed a contact request with the North will get approvals soon. Civil exchange with North Korea has been practically suspended altogether since the shutdown of the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong in February last year. For now, the Eugene Bell Foundation, a civic organization running a program to treat multiple-drug resistance tuberculosis, remains the only civic entity sending medical aid to the North.

The decision to renew humanitarian aid for North Korea was made right after Jung Ui-yong, the chief of the National Security Office, stressed the need to restore inter-Korean ties on Monday. It appears that the government perceives civil exchange as a separate issue from the North’s test-firing a couple of ballistic missiles over the course of a week.

“If we stop humanitarian aid over a launch of missiles, it would not be differentiated from the former Park Geun-hye administration’s policy towards North Korea,” said an official.

Sung-Ha Joo zsh75@donga.com