09/24/2009, 00.00
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Seoul’s hard-line position leading to collapse of intra-Korean relations

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
South Korea is blocking humanitarian aid worth millions of dollars and visits to the North. The humanitarian emergency might get worse if trade relations collapse.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – South Korea is taking a hard-line position towards the North. The government has approved only 12 of 46 applications for humanitarian visits. The Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK), an umbrella organization for NGO addressing North Korea humanitarian issues, warned on Tuesday that if Seoul maintains this stance it runs the risk of provoking the collapse of intra-Korean relations and thus prevent political changes in the North.

The KNCCK has set up an emergency committee to try to get the government to change its position because the lives of many people in the North depend on aid from the South.

Of the 345 people who applied to visit North Korea, only 62 were actually granted a permit. Concurrently, fertiliser, medical equipment (including x-ray machines and anaesthesia equipment), and water pumps, all worth some 2.445 billion Won (about US$ 2 million) are now piling up due to the government’s refusal to grant export permits.

South Korean authorities have taken this tough line after Pyongyang launched a long-range missile on 5 April and this over international objections and protests.

On several occasions, the government in Seoul said it would not change its policy unless and until its counterpart in Pyongyang does not give up its nuclear programme. However, this is leading to the collapse of economic relations between the two countries.

Under the hard-line policy, trade relations are now nearly impossible and anyone who violates the ban can expect to be severely punished.

For Kim Jeong-tae, who chairs a group of southern businesses who do business in North Korea, the policy is preventing his associates from doing business with North Korean companies that are not subject to sanctions, which is in itself a violation of the law.

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