A South Korean official will help monitor the distribution of humanitarian aid to North Korean children for the first time in three years, the Seoul government said Friday.
He is the first South Korean government official to travel to Pyongyang to monitor aid distribution since conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 with a tough policy toward North Korean aid. The visit is seen as a key sign that relations are improving after years of tension.
The divided Korean peninsula remains in a technical state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Relations have been particularly tense during Lee's presidency, culminating in a North Korean artillery attack on a front-line island a year ago that killed four South Koreans.
The South Korean official left Friday for Pyongyang along with four aid workers, the Unification Ministry said in a statement. He is expected to remain in the North until Tuesday to help monitor the distribution of 300 tons of flour for North Korean children. The flour is being provided by a South Korean civic group.
Some 6 million North Koreans, about a quarter of the population, will go hungry without outside food aid, according to the World Food Program.
South Korean officials have not traveled to North Korea to monitor food aid since Lee took office with a tough policy on linking assistance to North Korea's progress in dismantling its nuclear program.
However, in recent months, officials from both Koreas have met to discuss ways to resume nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks. Seoul has also allowed religious and cultural figures to visit North Korea.
On Thursday, South Korean scholars visited a North Korean border town to join a project to recover and preserve an ancient Korean palace.