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[Op-Ed] Family Reunions and Compensation

Posted October. 19, 2009 05:01,   


The government sent relief supplies worth 500,000 U.S. dollars to Indonesia after it suffered an earthquake early this month. Last month, 300,000 dollars in aid was sent to victims of a typhoon in Thailand and 100,000 dollars in food went to starving people in Guatemala due to drought. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says humanitarian aid is an activity that saves human lives, relieves pain, and maintains and protects human dignity. South Korea sent to 31 countries humanitarian assistance worth more than 10 million dollars last year.

At a working-level meeting for reunions of separated families at the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea Friday, negotiators from both Koreas disagreed over humanitarian aid. The South suggested holding reunions in November and Lunar New Year’s Day next year, but the North demanded humanitarian aid first by saying, “Additional reunions will be available if the South takes sincere measures.” Though both sides failed to reach an agreement due to conflicting ideas, the North made its first demand for aid since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration. The South is also taking positive stance by hinting at humanitarian aid through the Red Cross.

Without a doubt, starving North Koreans are the subject of humanitarian aid. At a time when the South is lending a helping hand to people abroad, it must devise a way to assist its brethren in the North. This is a moral duty. The reunion of separated families, however, is also humanitarian work and fits the OECD definition of humanitarian aid. In addition, reunions can be done immediately if the North agrees.

The problem is Pyongyang’s linking of the reunions to humanitarian aid. The North is repeating what happened under the previous Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. The two left-leaning governments provided the North with rice and fertilizer in return for family reunions. The North is debasing the spirit of humanitarianism by asking for compensation. It must cooperate in holding “national and humanitarian” reunions on a regular basis instead of repeatedly demanding compensation. If Pyongyang changes its attitude, Seoul will give more humanitarian assistance than it demands in return for the reunions.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)