Cash and Equipment for Seperated Family Center Vanishes
Money and equipment that was supposed to be used to build a video conference center in North Korea for separated families has “mysteriously” disappeared, reports the Joongang Ilbo.
An estimated 20 Million Korean families were separated during the Korean War and with no direct communication links currently existing between the two halves of the Korean Peninsula, these families have been unable to keep in contact with each other.
The first separated familes’ reunion, under the auspices of the two Korea’s respective Red Cross organizations, occurred in 1985. Since the 2000 inter-Korean summit, reunions have been an annual event. Reuniting separated families remains one of the South’s most pressing humanitarian concerns and officials had hoped to construct a 12 story reunion center at the Mt. Kumkang Special Tourism Area in North Korea. The latest news serves only to douse those hopes.
The Joongang Ilbo article notes that the South made five requests to Pyongyang to detail how the money was spent and five times the response was silence. Notice the bolded section:
South Korean officials hand-delivered $400,000 in cash to the North from April to August of last year, in addition to other materials for construction.
Giving cash as aid is rare due to concerns that the money may be diverted for other purposes.
Steel reinforcement, cement and buses were provided to North Korea on condition that the North cooperate in the South’s effort to follow up on construction and spending.
Once bitten, twice shy. Or not.
Chosun Ilbo speculates that the donation of cash instead of a more “secure” form of aid may have been intentional:
But many experts believe that argument was just an excuse to give Pyongyang the cash. Seoul could have solved the problem by consulting with the U.S. as it did with the Kaesong Industrial Complex, or it could have bought the equipment for Pyongyang in China.
Then what did Pyongyang do with the money? Song Dae Sung, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, surmises that
“The cash aid sent to the North may have been used for three purposes — slush funds for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, funding for the North Korean Army or funding for the North Korean Workers Party. It may also have been used to fund clandestine North Korean operations in South Korea or for military purposes.”
So far, the only sign of progress in the construction of a family reunion center, notes the Chosun Ilbo, is a “vacant lot.” Various construction materials, furnishings, SUVs and buses were also donated, none of which can be accounted for. My two cents: if the the South wants its donated goods back, it should probably try looking for them in the markets of Changbai and Dandong.
The total value of the missing aid, reports AFP, is just under $4 million.