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S. Korean Church Council Defies Government Ban on Aid to North

South Korea's National Council of Churches is sending tons of food aid to North Korea. But the South's Unification Ministry says the shipment was not authorized.

Nearly $100,000 worth of flour, donated by South Korean Christians, entered North Korea on Wednesday from the Chinese border city, Dandong.

The shipment of 172 tons of food aid was not approved by South Korea’s government.

The National Council of Churches acknowledges having unauthorized contact in Beijing with North Koreans to arrange the donation.

Council spokesman Kim Chang-hyun says his group does not feel bound by political ideology.

Kim says his organization is a Christian group and the aid is purely a humanitarian gesture. He says the South Korean government’s stance does not make any sense. He says his group is doing what the government cannot do and if they try to stop it, that will only worsen inter-Korean relations.

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo says it was not right for the church organization to contact the North Koreans and go ahead with the aid shipment, without getting South Korean government approval.

Lee says the ministry will take necessary measures after hearing from the National Council of Churches about its activities. She adds that the government is monitoring the situation.

South Korean laws ban the country's citizens from contacting North Korean officials without government approval. The Unification Ministry handles North-South affairs, because the two Koreas have no diplomatic relations and technically remain at war since a 1953 cease-fire agreement.

The ministry says five civic groups this year have been authorized to deliver basic medical supplies, bread and soy milk worth about $750,000.

This year, Pyongyang has made an urgent appeal for food assistance.

United Nations’ agencies say the situation in North Korea is at its most severe since the widespread famine of the mid-1990. But some analysts are skeptical. They say the government may be trying to hoard food ahead of next year’s celebrations to mark the centennial of the birth of the country’s late founder Kim Il Sung, who is designated as North
Korea’s “Eternal President.”