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Seoul Agrees To Big Aid Package For North, Steps Up Nuclear Monitoring

File photo: A South Korea cargo ship prepares to take aid and supplies to flood-damaged North Korea. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Aug 20, 2006
South Korea on Sunday announced a 230 million dollar emergency aid package for flood-hit North Korea, while also stepping up its monitoring of a possible nuclear test by the communist state. The unification ministry said the shipment of 100,000 tonnes of rice and other "humanitarian" aid would begin late this month.

The South was also strengthening its monitoring of North Korea's nuclear activities amid a US news report that it may be preparing to test an atomic bomb.

Six military personnel were recently stationed at a state-run seismology center to be on constant alert for any test, a defense official said.

The South's aid package came one day after inter-Korean Red Cross talks aimed at helping the North recover from last month's devastating floods, which official media said left hundreds dead or missing.

Relief goods included 100,000 tonnes of rice, 100,000 tonnes of cement, 210 dump trucks or other construction equipment, 10,000 first aid kits and 80,000 blankets, the ministry said in a statement.

The 220 billion won (230 million dollar) package is "purely humanitarian" in response to aid appeals from civic groups and politicians at home, it said.

South Korea, a long-time aid donor to its impoverished neighbour, had suspended regular shipments after the North test-fired missiles on July 5 that sparked international anger and condemnation.

North Korea's Red Cross negotiators Saturday "repeatedly expressed gratitude" over the planned aid shipment, the statement said, adding the North said the mid-July floods left 150 people dead or missing

Varying tolls have been reported. The official (North) Korean Central News Agency reported "hundreds" of people dead or missing although one humanitarian group in the South claimed the figure was more than 50,000.

South Korea estimated Friday that the floods deprived the North of at least 100,000 tonnes of grain, increasing this year's shortfall to at least 1.66 million tonnes.

The floods are often blamed on hillsides stripped of tree cover by residents desperate for firewood and particularly vulnerable to landslides.

Seoul has already provided some 10 million dollars to civic groups here to help them buy aid to be sent to the North.

North Korea, which suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s, has relied for the past decade on outside help to feed its 23 million people.

The South's planned aid came after ABC television network reported Thursday the North may be preparing an underground nuclear test. The governments in both Seoul and Washington remain cautious about the authenticity of the report.

The South's military stationed six personnel at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, capable of detecting nuclear tests on the peninsula, on August 14, according to a defense official speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It is not linked to the US media reports but we have been on an around-the-clock vigilance on North Korea's nuclear activities since July," the defense official said.

North Korea announced in February 2005 that it had manufactured nuclear weapons but nuclear weapons tests have never been reported.

Concern has been rising since it warned of taking "stronger physical actions" following UN condemnation and sanctions over its missile tests.

North Korea had requested 500,000 tons of rice from South Korea for this year, but South Korea said it will not comply until the North rejoins stalled international talks on ending its nuclear weapons program.

The North has been boycotting the talks, which also involve South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, since November over US financial sanctions imposed against it.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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