South Korea has permitted the shipment of bottled water produced in North Korea to the South, officials said Wednesday, the first such move since Seoul's 2010 imposition of sanctions on Pyongyang aimed at banning inter-Korean exchanges.
Seoul's unification ministry said that it has approved a local civic group's request to bring in 46,000 bottles of mineral water produced in North Korea, as they will be used for religious events, not for sale.
"The government gave the greenlight to the shipment because Seoul seeks to spur inter-Korean civilian exchanges within the boundaries of international sanctions," a ministry official said.
|This file photo taken July 18, 2007 shows the production of bottled water at a factory near Mount Kumgang in North Korea. (Yonhap)|
A Chinese-Korean businessman is known to have bought bottles of Mount Kumgang Spring Water in North Korea and donated them to the group. It plans to use them for religious rites to mark the lunar national foundation day later this month.
The bottled water, which arrived in the South last month, is awaiting customs clearance at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul.
It is rare for Seoul to allow North Korean products to make their way to the South since it slapped sanctions on the North on May 24, 2010. The unilateral sanctions banning inter-Korean exchanges were designed to punish North Korea for the torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March 2010.
The government dismissed the view that its latest approval indicates Seoul's softening of sanctions.
"The government does not seek to ease its unilateral sanctions. The approval was made on the basis that the shipment does not hamper the international sanctions regime," the official said.
He added that even after the imposition of the 2010 sanctions, the government previously approved civilians' moves to bring in North Korean items such as books when their use was not for commercial purposes.
Mount Kumgang Spring Water was first brought to the South in the mid-1990s and was imported to South Korea after 2000 when the two Koreas set up a joint venture for mass production until shipments were halted due to Seoul's sanctions. (Yonhap)