Seoul: South Korea has no intention of resuming its food aid to North Korea, an official said on Monday, a day after the ruling party chief questioned whether the assistance should restart because of recent flooding in the impoverished North.
For a decade, South Korea was a major donor of food to the North, before President Lee Myung-bak`s conservative government halted unconditional assistance after taking office in early 2008. Lee`s government also cut nearly all trade with North Korea after tension spiked over March`s deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang.
The North`s economy is in shambles and the country has relied on outside food aid to feed much of its 24 million people. The North`s chronic food shortage was feared to worsen after flooding from an overflowing river over the weekend swamped farmland, houses and public buildings in the North`s northwestern city of Sinuiju.
On Sunday night, ruling Grand National Party chief Ahn Sang-soo asked the government whether Seoul should resume its food aid to North Korea, citing the latest flooding during a regular meeting with government and presidential officials. Government representatives who took part in the meeting responded they would review the matter, according to a GNP statement.
But the Unification Ministry — which handles relations with North Korea — said on Monday it has no immediate plans to resume food aid to North Korea.
"Currently, the government is not considering the issue of resuming rice aid to North Korea," ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters.
Chun said South Korea`s position on assistance to North Korea remains the same, though he said he would not comment on the GNP statement.
More than 5,000 people were evacuated in Sinuiju due to the flooding triggered after heavy rains over the last several days caused the Yalu River to breach its banks, according to North`s state media. Flooding also forced the evacuation of more than 250,000 people in northern China.
Much of North Korea`s trade with the world passes through the city bordering China, forming a vital lifeline for the isolated, economically struggling country. Flooding in previous years has destroyed crops and pushed North Korea deeper into poverty, increasing its dependence on international food aid.
The two Koreas officially remain at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Tension on the Korean peninsula deepened after a South Korean-led international investigation blamed North Korea for torpedoing the warship Cheonan and killing 46 sailors. North Korea has flatly denied any involvement.