South Korea Releases Humanitarian Aid to North, Ending Freeze

Posted November 8th, 2011 at 3:30 am (UTC-5)
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South Korea says it will resume providing humanitarian assistance to North Korea through the United Nations after a one-and-a-half-year freeze.

A Unification Ministry official told VOA Tuesday the government will release almost $7 million in funding that was allocated to the World Health Organization for assistance to North Korea in 2009. Seoul froze the aid after blaming Pyongyang for the fatal sinking of the warship Cheonan in March 2010.

The aid is expected to go mainly for high-nutrition foods, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. Officials said the decision is in line with South Korea's policy of trying to help children and other highly vulnerable people in North Korea.

The money to be released is part of a $13.2 million aid package that was donated to the WHO for use in North Korea in 2009.

The decision is the latest sign of gradually improving relations between the two Koreas after months of tension caused by the Cheonan sinking and a North Korean artillery attack on the North in November last year.

Senior officials of the two countries have met twice since July to discuss terms for a resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs. The South has also begun allowing small amounts of private humanitarian aid to go to the North.

Preliminary negotiations are under way for the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Russia through North Korea to Seoul that would be worth billions of dollars a year to both Koreas.