South Korea ready to help North tackle looming famine

May 15th, 2008 - 7:02 pm ICT by admin  

Seoul, May 15 (DPA) South Korea said Thursday that it was ready to hold talks with North Korea on sending food aid to its impoverished neighbour as the United Nations and aid agency warned it was facing famine. “If there is an opportunity, we plan to have direct consultations with North Korea,” Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan said as Seoul made a fence-mending gesture after North-South tensions have grown since South Korean President Lee Myung Bak was elected in December.

It remained unclear from Yu’s statements whether Lee’s government would drop its condition that North Korea would have to first ask for aid before the South would provide it.

Despite its food shortages, North Korea has so far not asked for a new rice shipment this year from Seoul, one its largest donors in recent years.

Communist North Korea is suffering from poor harvests, summer flooding, rising grain prices and dwindling foreign aid. As a result, the Buddhist aid group Good Friends warned that hundreds of thousands of people there were threatened with starvation.

“There are a lot of starving people in North Korea due to the ongoing food crisis,” Ahn Sang Soo, a leader in the ruling Grand National Party, was quoted as saying by the national news agency Yonhap. The party called for unconditional food aid for the North.

One of the reasons for the cause of worsening relations between Seoul and Pyongyang was Lee’s insistence that South Korea would only provide economic assistance to its neighbour if it made progress towards its promise to dismantle its nuclear programmes.

“The government should prevent the people from starving to death by speedily providing food from a humanitarian view,” Ahn said.

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