North Korea wants talks with S. Korean NGOs
The North Korean government is reaching out directly to South Korean non-governmental organizations in a bid to secure badly-needed aid, an official said.
“This year North Korea has contacted NGOs in the South saying they want to meet in North Korea or China,” unification ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said. “But we haven’t made any decision to resume NGO visits with their North Korean counterparts.”
In the wake of Pyongyang’s Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, Seoul has halted all humanitarian aid to the North and restricted travel there.
It wants the North to apologize for the shelling as well as the sinking in March of the warship Cheonan and prove its genuine intent to denuclearize before aid resumes.
Park Hyun-seok, secretary general of the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCNK), told The Korea Times earlier that Pyongyang had requested a meeting with him and other officials of the coalition.
“In January, the North sent an official fax to our organization, seeking to have talks in Pyongyang on Feb. 9 to 12,” he said.
The government banned travel to the North after Pyongyang’s shelling of Yeonpyeong, which killed four and sent tensions to their worst point in decades.
According to a copy of the fax obtained by the paper, the North views the prospective meeting as an opportunity to mend cross-border ties.
“We wish for your organization's visit to Pyongyang to become an important step towards resolving the situation of acute confrontation and opening up a path to peace,” it says.
The KNCCNK is a coalition of 56 NGOs that provide aid to the North. Their activities have been on hold since the shelling.
Park said Pyongyang’s aid requests are becoming more desperate due to the unusually harsh winter it is experiencing. Low temperatures there have hovered around -15 degrees Celsius in January, according to state-media reports, with some regions experiencing heavy snow.
“Many are dying for want of food and fuel for heating,” he said.
The KNCCNK proposed the meeting in early November, before the shelling incident. Park said that at the time, both governments gave positive signals on the prospective talks.