SEOUL: South Korea on Monday approved a private fertilizer shipment to North Korea for the first time in five years, flagging a possible easing of strict sanctions imposed on the North for the sinking of a naval vessel.
The move came days after South Korea and the United States wrapped up their annual joint military exercises which are always accompanied by a rise in cross-border tensions.
The South’s Unification Ministry said it would allow Ace Gyeongnam, a South Korean aid group, to deliver farming materials, including 15 ton of fertilizer, for a greenhouse project in the North.
Seoul halted government aid shipments, including fertilizer, to North Korea after a conservative government took office in Seoul in early 2008.
Fertilizer shipments by private civilian groups were also banned following the 2010 sinking of a South Korean naval corvette, the Cheonan.
Despite Pyongyang’s heated denials, South Korea insisted the ship was sunk by a North Korean submarine and imposed an effective trade embargo which remains in place.
But the Unification Ministry said Monday’s approval of the fertilizer shipment should not be seen as a relaxation of the sanctions regime.
“It’s only a small amount of fertilizer and, because the particular organization in this case was able to guarantee transparency on where and how it would be used, the government chose to approve the proposal,” a ministry official told AFP.
“The 2010 measures remain in place, but where transparency can be guaranteed and the aid is intended to improve the lives of North Korea residents, the government will let it happen,” the official said.