News / Asia

After North's Rebuff, S. Korea Looks Elsewhere to Donate Aid

North Korean orphans during a visit from a foreign delegation at their orphanage in the area damaged by recent floods and typhoons in North Hwanghae province September 29, 2011.
North Korean orphans during a visit from a foreign delegation at their orphanage in the area damaged by recent floods and typhoons in North Hwanghae province September 29, 2011.

South Korea says it is looking to donate baby formula originally intended for North Korea to countries in Africa and elsewhere hit by disasters. The formula was part of a bigger aid shipment that was never accepted by Pyongyang.

The South Korean government says consultations are underway with other countries and charity groups about where to donate nearly 300,000 packs of baby food.

The infant formula is among $4.5 million worth of aid Seoul attempted to donate to North Korean flood victims. But the government here says it never received a response from Pyongyang about the offer. Instead North Korea asked for rice and cement.

Park Hyun-seok, the Secretary-General of the NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea says Pyongyang desires items which would actually aid those affected by the recent floods.

Park criticizes specific items South Korea proposed to send. He says even South Koreans want to avoid eating ramen instant noodles because the ingredients are unhealthy and Choco-Pie (chocolate marshmallow) snacks are not helpful to promote growth of children.

The World Food Program of the United Nations says about one third of North Korea's children under the age of five are chronically malnourished. The impoverished country has relied on outside aid since the late 1990's when it was hit by famine.

North Korea did accept from South Korea, this month, one million doses of hepatitis B vaccines intended for children.

The South has also authorized the resumption, through the World Health Organization, of $7 million worth of medical aid for the communist country.

South Korea's Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that the government has ruled out sending large-scale food aid to the North.

The Unification Ministry is tasked with inter-Korean relations and handling humanitarian aid to the North. Seoul and Pyongyang have no diplomatic relations.

Next week Minister Yu is scheduled to visit Beijing for talks with Chinese officials concerning North Korea.

China is the North's only remaining key ally. The Unification Minister recently visited Washington for similar discussion with U.S. government officials about North Korea.

The administration of President Lee Myung-bak, which came to power in 2008, reversed the previous government’s more generous approach to Pyongyang. Mr. Lee has stuck to a policy of linking the scope of aid to progress in ending North Korea's nuclear weapons development.

Six-nation talks about Pyongyang's nuclear programs have been stalled for nearly three years. North Korea has called for a quick, unconditional resumption of the negotiations.

Japanese officials say senior officials from Tokyo, Seoul and Washington, meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali on Thursday, agreed that prior to the multination talks resuming, Pyongyang needs to demonstrate concrete action on denuclearization, including halting its nuclear enrichment program.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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