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N. Korea must apologize for ship sinking if it wants large food aid from S. Korea: official

All Headlines 15:07 September 20, 2010

By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korea must clearly show it is repentant for the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship if it wants Seoul to consider resuming large-scale food assistance to the communist neighbor, a senior official said Monday.

The March 26 sinking of the Cheonan warship has been the biggest thorn in the relations between the divided countries this year even though Pyongyang denies any involvement in it.

Forty-six sailors died in the sinking that South Korea blames on a North Korean torpedo, citing a multinational investigation.

In an interview with the local MBC radio station, Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik said North Korea should admit to its wrongdoing, apologize and punish those involved before cross-border relations can improve.

"Only when these things are done, inter-Korean relations can move forward," he said, adding that such apologetic steps are also linked to the resumption of stalled multinational talks on the North's nuclear arms programs.

"Then, things like large-scale government food assistance can be carried out after the North's food situations and the state of inter-Korean relations are comprehensively assessed," he said, calling for "a clear admission of wrongdoing" over the sinking.

In a sign of easing tension, South Korea and its Red Cross are preparing to send North Korea 10 billion won ($US8.6 million) in flood aid that includes 5,000 tons of rice. On Friday, 203 tons of civilian rice aid crossed the border.

But Seoul is ruling out any massive government-to-government food assistance, saying such action can come after Pyongyang shows progress in its denuclearization and stops military provocations.

South Korea shipped hundreds of thousands of tons of rice to North Korea annually for years before relations started deteriorating in early 2008 when President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative, took office in Seoul.

Pressure has been building in recent weeks, however, on the South Korean government to resume rice aid to North Korea because of the soaring costs of storing the staple in state warehouses. Despite measures aimed at curbing production, huge harvests have driven down prices, putting the Seoul government in a bind.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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