By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) – South Korea is awaiting the U.S. approval, to send 50,000 metric tons of rice to the drought-hit North Korea, to avoid sanctions.
Korean news agency Yonhap reported on Tuesday that South Korean officials are engaged in discussions with the World Food Program (WFP) to ship rice to the North. South Korea had also promised to donate $12 million, to the WFP to help address food shortage, leading to humanitarian crisis across its borders.
The WFP is the food-assistance branch of the UN and the world's largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security.
"Rice itself is not subject to sanctions. But using ships to transport are subjected to sanctions. The WFP is in consultation [with the U.S.] and our government is also cooperating in the process,” the officials said.
After the U.S. nod, the UN body will subsequently deliver food and ensure its distribution. The first shipment is expected to be sent later this month.
North Korea is under sanctions since 2006 after it detonated a nuclear device. Therefore, vessels are barred to enter into the U.S. harbors for 180 days after they sail at the North Korean ports without prior approval.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said it has completed administrative procedures necessary to carry out the rice provision plan. It has set aside around 127 billion won ($109.3 million) to secure rice from the local market, along with some $12 million as additional funds to help the WFP's delivery and distribution efforts.
South Korea aims to send the food assistance to the North before the lean season starts in September. The official said that Seoul aims to make the first shipment to the North within this month.
The WFP is mulling to send its officers to North Korea, besides opening more local offices in the impoverished country. The UN body has already 50 of its members posted in North Korea.
In past, South Korea had sent such aid in 2010, when it shipped 5,000 tons to help the North recover from flood damage.