SEOUL, Sept. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Red Cross will begin the shipment of 5,000 tons of rice and other aid materials next month to North Korea, which has been battered by summer floods, officials here said Sunday.
It would mark South Korea's first government-funded provision of rice to the hunger-stricken communist neighbor since the conservative president, Lee Myung-bak, took office in early 2008 on a pledge to link inter-Korean ties to Pyongyang's denuclearization.
The South's government plans to convene a committee on inter-Korean exchanges on Tuesday to approve the use of taxpayers' money earmarked for projects to improve relations with the North, the officials said.
"(The government) will report to the National Assembly on Sept. 28 and the committee will approve the aid worth 8 billion won (US$6.9 million) from the South-North Cooperation Fund (on the same day)," a Unification Ministry official said.
The rice shipment will depart from the port of Incheon, west of Seoul, on Oct. 25 and it will be delivered to the North Korean city of Sinuiju bordering China via Dandong, an adjacent Chinese town, he added.
Other aid items to be sent to the North in stages include 10,000 tons of cement, three million packs of instant noodles and some medical goods.
South Korea has ruled out the shipment of construction equipment, which the North requested, taking into account the possibility of the equipment being used for military purposes.
Seoul's rice aid, although officials here stressed it is purely a humanitarian move, has been seen as a possible sign of a thaw in chilled inter-Korean relations. Military tensions have risen sharply since the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, which the South attributed to a North Korean torpedo attack.
South Korea suspended an annual shipment of 300,000-400,000 tons of rice to the North in 2008, citing little progress in efforts to end the North's nuclear program.
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