SEOUL, June 28 (Bernama) -- South Korea completed administrative procedures necessary to carry out its decision to send 50,000 tons of rice in aid to North Korea via a U.N. agency, reported Yonhap News Agency quoting the unification ministry Friday.
Last week, the ministry unveiled the food aid plan, saying it will deliver domestically harvested rice to the North through the World Food Programme (WFP) to help the impoverished state address its worsening food shortages.
After a weeklong review, a government-civilian panel endorsed the plan, the ministry said.
By law, all important government decisions on inter-Korean exchanges are supposed to be reviewed and approved by the panel, the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council, before implementation.
The approval allows the ministry to tap into a state fund and spend about 27.3 billion won (US$23.6 million) to mostly secure rice. Some $12 million will also be set aside to help the WFP's delivery and distribution of the rice in the North.
Separately, the government needs 99.2 billion won more to help cover expenses from purchasing, processing and packaging the rice, a necessary process before the aid is handed over to the WFP, the ministry said.
Details such as how and when the rice will be delivered to the North need to be worked out through discussions with the WFP, the ministry said. Many expect that it will be delivered by ship given the amount of rice and the ministry said that it is aiming to send the aid to the North before the end of September.
It marks the first time for South Korea to provide rice to North Korea since 2010, when it sent 5,000 tons to support its efforts to recover from flood damage. It will also be the first time Seoul has sent locally harvested rice to the North through an international agency.
North Korea is reportedly facing worsening food shortages apparently caused by crushing global sanctions and years of unfavourable weather conditions. Observers say that an ongoing drought in many parts of North Korea could make things worse for its already strained food supply conditions.
Earlier this month, Seoul donated $8 million to the WFP and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) for their projects in North Korea to support the nutrition of children and pregnant women, and address their health problems. The ministry is considering making an additional donation to such global agencies.
Critics objected to Seoul's push for food assistance to North Korea, citing the communist state's short-range missile tests in May.
The South Korean government said politics should not play a role in dealing with such humanitarian issues and expects such food assistance could boost the cross-border reconciliatory mood and help advance inter-Korean relations, which have been in limbo apparently affected by a lack of progress in denuclearisation talks.