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South Korea considers limited aid to North Korea
Seoul, Oct 18 (Agencies):
Published on 18 Oct. 2009 10:43 PM IST
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South Korea's conservative government will consider giving limited aid to impoverished North Korea but has ruled out assistance on the large scale of previous liberal administrations, a senior official said on Sunday. It would be the first time that the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak has given aid to the reclusive communist regime. Lee has previously linked any aid to progress in efforts to rid the North of its nuclear programs. For a decade, South Korea was one of the biggest donors to the North, shipping hundreds of thousands of tons of food across the militarised border every year. But aid stopped after Lee took office last year with a pledge to get tough on the North. That prompted a dip in relations, and tensions deepened over the regime's nuclear and missile tests earlier this year. Ties have since improved. North Korea asked for humanitarian assistance at talks with the South on Friday — its first such request during Lee's government. A senior South Korean official told reporters Sunday the government will consider providing limited aid to help the most vulnerable people like infants and young children. Local media have reported that the government is thinking about sending up to 50,000 tons of food. But large-scale aid seen in the previous governments would be "going beyond the scope of pure humanitarian assistance" and is not in line with the current administration's policy on the North, the official said on condition of anonymity due to the issue's sensitivity. North Korea, which has faced chronic food shortages since flooding and mismanagement destroyed its economy in the mid-1990s, is usually short at least 1 million tons of food every year and has relied on outside assistance to feed its 24 million people. Relations between the two Koreas have shown signs of improvement in recent months as the North has tried to reach out to Seoul with a series of conciliatory gestures despite UN sanctions for its May nuclear test. The two sides fought the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war. Their ties had significantly warmed following the first-ever summit of their leaders in 2000 before souring again under Lee.

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