The South Korean government on Friday authorised a non-governmental organisation to make contact with Pyongyang with the aim of restoring humanitarian assistance to North Korea and other inter-Korean cooperation programmes.
The government gave the green light to the request by the Korean Sharing Movement to contact North Koreans to discuss ways to resume assistance and cooperative projects, according to government officials.
It marks the first such approval since the administration of liberal President Moon Jae-in took office early this month amid expectations of engagement with North Korea, Yonhap News Agency reported.
The humanitarian assistance body filed for approval from the Ministry of Unification on the plan to discuss its assistance programmes with North Korea earlier this month, including a joint project to tackle malaria.
If the discussion goes smoothly, the group would again seek the ministry’s approval in order to ship relief goods to North Korea, the head of the group, Kang Young-sik, said.
They also plan to send officials to North Korea, including ruling party lawmaker Won Hye-young, who co-heads the group, although it would also require approval from the ministry.
“If the discussion is successful, a visit to North Korea would be possible around June 10,” Kang said.
The ministry said Thursday it is reviewing 19 civic groups’ requests for such approval as they are seeking to provide humanitarian assistance and pursue projects in development and exchanges in the social and cultural sectors.
Since Moon took office on May 10, expectations have been high that civilian inter-Korean exchanges will be revived.
The government under former President Park Geun-hye said it would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those vulnerable in North Korea, such as infants and pregnant women. But Seoul suspended almost all civilian exchanges when North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January 2016.
Any trip to North Korea requires the Seoul government’s approval, as well as Pyongyang’s consent.