SKorea sends 1st food aid to NKorea in 3 years

AP News
Posted: Oct 25, 2010 11:30 PM
SKorea sends 1st food aid to NKorea in 3 years

South Korea sent its first humanitarian rice shipment to North Korea since a conservative, pro-U.S. government took office in 2008, and opened talks Tuesday on how to regularly hold reunions for families divided across the border.

The moves are part of a thaw in tensions between the Koreas in recent months, after they spiked in March over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang. Analysts say recent conciliatory gestures by the North show it badly needs food aid to recover from August flooding as it seeks to maintain stability while leader Kim Jong Il transfers power to a son.

A freighter carrying 5,000 tons of rice left the southern port of Gunsan on Tuesday and headed for the Chinese border city of Dandong, where the rice will be loaded onto trucks for delivery in North Korea.

South Korea was a major donor of food to North Korea for about a decade until President Lee Myung-bak halted unconditional assistance in early 2008, saying it should be linked to the North's progress on meeting its denuclearization obligations. Lee's government also drastically slashed trade with North Korea after the March ship sinking.

The two Koreas remain technically at war, because their 1950-53 conflict ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

However, signs of a thaw have emerged recently, with Pyongyang making conciliatory gestures such as releasing South Korean and American detainees and proposing the resumption of stalled joint projects. South Korea promised last month to send 10 billion won ($8.5 million) in flood aid to the North.

Also Tuesday, Red Cross officials from the two Koreas opened talks to discuss ways to regularly hold reunions of families separated by the Korean War, Seoul's Unification Ministry said.

The two-day talks in the North's border city of Kaesong come days before hundreds of South Koreans and North Koreans plan to meet relatives at a hotel and reunion center at the North's scenic Diamond Mountain resort.

"We will try our best to bring good results so that much more separated families can have reunions as soon as possible," South Korea chief delegate Kim Yong-hyun told reporters before heading to the North. He said he would propose that the two Koreas hold such reunions monthly.

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More than 20,800 family members have had brief reunions in face-to-face meetings or by video since a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000.

The shipments of South Korean rice are to arrive in the northwestern North Korean city of Sinuiju by mid-November, according to Seoul's Red Cross, which handles the government-financed shipment. South Korea also was sending 3 million cups of instant noodles.

Cement and medicine also will be delivered to North Korea by December, the Red Cross said.

Heavy flooding swamped farmland, houses and public buildings in Sinuiju in August. An estimated 80,000-90,000 people were affected by the flooding, and the 5,000 tons of rice can feed about 100,000 people for 100 days, according to the Red Cross.

South Korea's last rice shipment to North Korea was made in December 2007. Rice is a key staple for both Koreas.


Associated Press Writer Hyung-jin Kim and AP Television News cameraman Yong-ho Kim contributed to this report.