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S. Korea to send food aid to N. Korea overland next week

All Headlines 17:46 July 09, 2007

By Sohn Suk-joo

SEOUL, July 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will start sending 50,000 tons of rice aid to North Korea overland next week, as part of its promised loan of 400,000 tons of rice aid to the impoverished communist country, officials said Monday.

While 350,000 tons of rice will be delivered to the North by sea, 30,000 tons will be delivered via a railway track in the west of the Korean Peninsula, and another 20,000 tons will be delivered via an east coast railway line, a unification ministry official said.

The two Koreas conducted an historic test of the connected railways across the border in mid May.

South Korea resumed shipping rice aid to North Korea in late June after more than a one-year hiatus as the North takes steps toward nuclear dismantlement. The aid, which consists of 250,000 tons of imported rice and 150,000 tons of domestic rice, will be made over the next five months.

"The rice aid to North Korea via the overland route will be made for five weeks starting from next Friday," the official said.

North Korea is supposed to pay back US$152 million of the rice loan over 20 years after a 10-year grace period at an annual interest rate of 1 percent.

South Korea resumed shipments of fertilizer and other emergency aid to the North in late March, but withheld the loan of 400,000 tons of rice as an inducement for North Korea to start nuclear dismantlement following a landmark agreement reached in the six-nation talks in February.

In early June, inter-Korean ministerial talks ended without tangible results after North Korea protested the South's decision to withhold rice aid until the North took steps toward nuclear dismantlement.

South Korea suspended all types of food and fertilizer aid to North Korea after the North conducted missile tests in July. Resumption of the aid was stymied due to the North's nuclear bomb test in October, but the two sides agreed to put all inter-Korean projects back on track in early March. The last rice aid shipment was made in early 2006.

A poor harvest in 2006, disastrous summer flooding and a 75 percent fall in donor assistance from abroad have dealt severe blows to the impoverished nation, according to World Food Program (WFP) officials.

A recent think tank report said North Korea could run short of up to one third of the food it needs this year if South Korea and other countries withhold aid.

Data from the WFP and the Unification Ministry show that the North will need between 5.24 million tons and 6.47 million tons of food this year. Depending on the weather, the availability of fertilizer and other factors, the communist state may be able to produce only 4.3 million tons of food by itself, the report said.

ssj@yna.co.kr
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