S. Korea closes humanitarian aid bureau

May 12, 2009 at 1:22 AM

SEOUL, May 12 (UPI) -- South Korea, amid strained relations with North Korea, Tuesday closed its unification ministry's bureau of humanitarian aid to its communist neighbor.

In closing the Humanitarian Cooperation Bureau as part of a government restructuring, the ministry created a new one that it said will more closely analyze North Korea's internal politics, Yonhap news agency reported.

"The restructuring aims to strengthen the ministry's long-term unification policy and intelligence analysis and merge overlapped low-level units," Kim Jung-tae, assistant minister for planning and coordination, told reporters.

Although Kim said the humanitarian aid bureau's four divisions will be absorbed into other agencies, Yonhap reported the decision has raised concerns.

The bureau, set up in 1996, was involved in sending humanitarian aid to the North, arranging reunions of separated families from the Korean War and assisting in resettling North Korean defectors in the South, the report said.

Its closure comes at a time when South Korea has suspended rice and fertilizer aid. Relations between the two countries also have been affected by the new government's tougher stand against North Korea's nuclear program.

Yonhap reported North Korea has broken off dialogue and stopped reunions of families.

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