Tug-of-war underway over fertilizer aid to the North

Posted on : 2014-03-19 15:44 KST Modified on : 2014-03-19 15:44 KST
Park administration’s policy for humanitarian aid to the North becoming apparent as private groups try to make donations

By Choi Hyun-june, staff reporter

Fertilizer is one of the key issues in humanitarian aid to North Korea. At her New Year’s address, President Park Geun-hye pledged to “expand private humanitarian aid to North Korea.” But now a tug-of-war is under way between private groups who want to donate fertilizer to the North and a government that is insisting on slowing things down.

“This is not to time to send fertilizer to North Korea,” Minister of Unification Ryoo Kihl-jae said this morning, after a lecture at a forum organized by the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC), an umbrella organization including 187 progressive and conservative civic groups, said on Mar. 18 that it is continuing on with its campaign to send one million bags of fertilizer to North Korea, even after it canceled an announcement event after government calls to “slow down.” The million bags would amount to a sizable 20,000 tons, worth the equivalent of US$12 million. By the afternoon of Mar. 18, five days after launching its fundraising campaign, the KCRC said it had already gotten 77,040 bags.

“We’re planning to make our first shipping request to the government once we reach 100,000 bags,” explained Lee Woon-sik, secretary-general of KCRC, adding that this would “probably be this weekend or early next week.”

NGOs working to provide aid to North Korea have been especially alert to KCRC’s actions. One of the figures behind the campaign is KCRC chairman Hong Sa-deok, an influential figure who is also counted among President Park’s seven longest-standing supporters. This has many expecting the government’s own ideas about aid to North Korea to become apparent as the situation is handled.

“There are other support projects that are needed for spring farming, things like plastic for rice seeds plots, but the KCRC’s fertilizer effort is the big one,” said Lee Ju-seong, who heads the steering committee for the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK).

Meanwhile, the government continues dragging its feet. Meeting with a KNCCK chairman’s group on Mar. 17, Minister of Unification Ryoo Kihl-jae was reportedly cautious on the issue, asking the group for patience. Sources reported him as saying the government was “preparing” to expand its North Korea aid, but adding, “There are two sides to this issue, so we can’t talk about when exactly it’s going to happen.”

Ministry spokesperson Kim Ui-do was even more direct, saying, “no plan for government fertilizer aid to North Korea is being considered right now. Before they can send the fertilizer, KCRC needs to consult with the government.”

He was also guarded on the possibility of KCRC being issued a permit, saying only that the matter would be “reviewed when the shipment request comes in.”

NGOs have been voicing their frustrations.

“The trust-building process between South and North is important, but trust between the government and the public is even more important than that,” said KNCCK chairman Yang Ho-seung.

Yang’s charge is that Park has failed to bring her pledge for “expanded private humanitarian aid” into action. During her New Year’s address on Jan. 6, which included her first reference to unification being “the jackpot,” Park said she hoped to “expand healthy private interchange that can broaden understanding between residents [of North and South Korea].” Two of the examples she mentioned were agriculture and livestock aid.

North Korea’s annual fertilizer requirements are approximately 1,550,000 tons, while it only produces around one-third of that, an estimated 500,000 tons.

Former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said, “The ‘Unification jackpot’ is a result, so we need a process that will lead to that result. Inter-Korean relations can be improved through the provision of fertilizer aid to North Korea.”


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