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North Korea Requests Rice, Machinery, Cement Aid

Posted September. 08, 2010 11:06,   


North Korea has asked for rice, heavy machinery and cement assistance from South Korea for flood recovery efforts, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said Tuesday.

The request was made Saturday, two days before the North decided to release the South Korean fishing boat 55 Daesung seized nearly a month ago in the East Sea. This could signal a thaw in tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul is expected to respond to Pyongyang’s request soon.

“North Korea’s Red Cross sent a message to its South Korean counterpart Tuesday through the office of the Kaesong Industrial Complex saying it hopes to receive rice, cement, cars and excavators rather than the initially proposed aid of emergency food, basic necessities and medicine for flood recovery,” the ministry said.

This is the first time for the North to send an official request for rice aid under the Lee Myung-bak administration of South Korea.

On Aug. 26 and 31, the South’s Red Cross sent messages to its North Korean counterpart proposing the sending of emergency food, basic necessities and medical and emergency aid worth 10 billion won (8.5 million U.S. dollars), but rice, heavy machinery and cement were excluded.

A senior South Korean official said, “The government is considering whether to give aid in the context of the 10 billion won in assistance as initially proposed by the Red Cross. We consider the North’s request for rice aid as fairly positive since it is Pyongyang’s first official request to our incumbent administration.”

On if the decision will come after the conference of the North’s ruling Worker’s Party ends, the official said, “Not necessarily,” hinting at a decision coming soon.

Another official also indicated a positive response to sending rice aid, saying, “The government will consider that the South Korean Red Cross is not a government agency, that it proposed help for flood recovery, that the North asked for an alternative based on that offer, and that it is a humanitarian issue.”

After the North suffered flood damage in 2006, the South sent 100,000 tons of rice, 100 trucks, 50 excavators and 100,000 tons of cement to the communist country. A year later, Seoul also sent 20 pieces of recovery equipment and 50,000 tons of cement.

If Pyongyang’s request is accepted, it is expected to ease bilateral tension that soared after the March 26 sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan by the North.

A senior government official in Seoul said, however, “Even if we send rice and cement aid, it’ll be only on humanitarian grounds. Our stance on North Korea remains the same.”

will71@donga.com srkim@donga.com