South hints at emergency relief aid to North

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South hints at emergency relief aid to North

South Korea is considering again allowing civilian relief groups to send rice to North Korea as emergency aid, a senior government official said yesterday.

If approved, it would be seen as a symbolic gesture as South Korea has refused to allow rice to be sent to the North since President Lee Myung-bak took office in February 2008 by linking aid to progress in Pyongyang’s denuclearization efforts.

A South Korean aid group is currently seeking government approval to ship 100 tons of rice to North Korea in the aftermath of last month’s heavy rains, which caused tens of deaths and destroyed farmland in the communist country.

“In the case of civilian aid that takes the form of emergency assistance, whether it includes flour, corn or rice, the government is thinking of positively reviewing it,” the official told reporters, asking not to be identified.

South Korea’s Red Cross last week proposed to its North Korean counterpart that it would send 10 billion won ($8.4 million) in flood aid that excludes rice. The offer came amid high tension between the divided states, which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

South Korea accused the North Korean navy of torpedoing its Cheonan warship in the Yellow Sea on March 26, killing 46 sailors. The North denies its role and has threatened war for any punishment.

South Korea provided North Korea with hundreds of thousands of tons of rice annually before the aid was suspended in 2008. Growing rice stockpiles has since become a national concern, with some ruling party lawmakers supporting a resumption of rice supplies to the North.

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