September 21, 2017 1:46 pm JST

Seoul to offer North Korea $8 million in humanitarian aid

Timing of largesse could raise eyebrows, opposition in Japan

KIM JAEWON, Nikkei staff writer

South Korean workers load rice bound for North Korea into a Vietnamese ship at Gunsan, South Korea in this 2007 file photo. © AP

SEOUL - The South Korean government said Thursday that it will provide two United Nations' agencies with $8 million in aid, which will be earmarked for children and pregnant women in North Korea.

The move is aimed at separating humanitarian assistance from the political issues dividing the two states.

The Ministry of Unification said that a committee chaired by Minister Cho Myoung-gyon approved a plan to offer $3.5 million to UNICEF and $4.5 million to the World Food Program.

"Humanitarian aid should be separated from political situations," said Cho in the meeting. "Humanitarian aid to North Koreans should continue. And this is what the international community agrees with, including the U.S., Russia and Switzerland."

The decision came one day after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to totally destroy North Korea if it continues to develop nuclear arms.

Trump's threat came during his first speech at the United Nations' General Assembly. Tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang's provocations, including its largest-ever nuclear test earlier this month and mid-range ballistic missile launches.

Seoul's decision is expected to invite opposition from Japan, a key regional ally. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised questions about the aid plan in a phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sept. 15 after a North Korean missile flew over northern Japan.

The U.S. has yet to issue any official statement, but Trump expressed displeasure earlier this month with Seoul's desire to hold talks with Pyongyang.

Considering the tense situation in the region, South Korea said that it will decide when to actually provide the aid.

Seoul stressed that strict monitoring by international agencies will ensure that the supplies of food and medicine would not be diverted by the North for purposes other than helping children and pregnant women.

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