South Korea has approved $6 million in government aid for vaccines, medical care and food for North Korean children, officials said Tuesday, the first such humanitarian aid for Pyongyang since South Korean President Park Geun-hye took office in February.
Seoul will send the U.N. Children’s Fund the money Wednesday, and it will be used over the next year, the South Korean Unification Ministry, which is responsible for ties with North Korea, said in a statement. Seoul last provided aid through the U.N. agency in 2011.
Park took office after five years of high tensions between the authoritarian government in Pyongyang and conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Seoul blames North Korea for attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans. Park has vowed a tough response to any North Korean provocations but has also supported a policy meant to build trust and encourage dialogue with Pyongyang.
The South Korean ministry also approved about $700,000 for a project allowing people in the South to leave video messages for family members in the North they were separated from because of the 1950-1953 Korean War. Many elderly people fear they’ll die before reuniting with their loved ones.
The announcement of the $6 million in aid comes as the two Koreas remain deadlocked over efforts to restart a jointly run factory park in North Korea that has been shuttered since Pyongyang withdrew its workers in April. North Korea unleashed a torrent of threats in March and April, including vows of nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul. Pyongyang said it was responding to annual U.S.-South Korean military drills and U.N. sanctions over Pyongyang’s February nuclear test.
The rival Koreas have had six unsuccessful rounds of talks meant to restart the Kaesong industrial complex, which was the last symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. But Pyongyang hasn’t responded to a call by Seoul in late July for another round of talks.