South Korea okays first aid shipment to North
South Korea is set to start delivering aid to North Korea for the first time since President Moon Jae-in took office in Seoul last month.
The South's Unification Ministry has approved the Eugene Bell Foundation Korea's application to send tuberculosis medicine worth $1.7 million and construction materials valued at around $310,000 for developing hospital wards in the reclusive state, according to an official cited by Yonhap News Agency Tuesday.
While this marks a breakthrough for the Moon administration, Seoul's liberal leader has made it clear he wants to offer aid and dialogue in order to boost neighborly relations -- the Koreas never agreed a peace treaty after their 1950-53 war.
One of the primary sticking points has been Pyongyang's repeated refusal to give up its nuclear weapon ambitions.
A series of provocations led to a total breakdown in bilateral ties last year under Moon's conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye -- although the Eugene Bell Foundation Korea was permitted to continue giving medical support to the North, it was barred from providing any construction assistance.
"[The approval was made on the basis that] tuberculosis is a disease necessary for consistent treatment, and the shipment does not have a risk of being misused," a ministry official was quoted as saying.
Seoul has to be careful not to breach any requirements under global sanctions imposed against North Korea, which appear to be biting based on Beijing customs data released Tuesday -- Pyongyang was unable to earn any money from coal exports to its main trade partner China for three straight months.
Meanwhile, Seoul's Unification Ministry revealed it would repatriate eight North Korean sailors found drifting on a broken vessel in nearby waters last week.
South Korea has a policy of accepting defectors from the North -- the issue has risen to new prominence after this month's separate crossings by three North Koreans over the closely guarded Demilitarized Zone between the nations.