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S. Korean Christians deliver unauthorized food aid to N. Korea

All Headlines 18:22 May 18, 2011

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Christians delivered unauthorized food shipments to North Korea on Wednesday, a case that highlights deep divisions in the South over aid to the North, which is suffering from chronic food shortages.

Six trucks loaded with 172 tons of flour worth 100 million won (US$91,700) left the Chinese border city of Dandong for North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, according to the National Council of Churches in Korea.

The aid was sent to the North through the Amity Foundation, a Chinese aid group. Two of its officials plan to travel to Pyongyang around June 1 to deliver flour and monitor its distribution to ensure that the food reaches those in need.

There have been widespread allegations that the North has diverted outside food aid to its elite and military, a key backbone of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's rule.

The shipments came two months after the council officials reached an agreement on flour aid with their North Korean counterparts during their unauthorized contact in Beijing.

South Korean laws ban the country's citizens from contacting North Korean officials without government approval.

South Korea was one of the major donors to its impoverished northern neighbor for years. But Seoul halted unconditional aid in 2008 and tightened its sanctions on the North last year in retaliation to the communist nation's two deadly attacks on the South that killed 50 South Koreans.

South Korea has since selectively approved humanitarian and medical aid to North Korea by private aid groups.

The groups have called on the government to resume food aid to the North. But the South Korean government showed no sign of easing its stance on food aid, noting inter-Korean situations should be taken into account on the issue.

The United Nations last month appealed for 430,000 tons of food for North Korea to feed 6 million vulnerable people.

Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, held a series of talks with South Korean officials in Seoul this week to discuss possible food aid to North Korea and the resumption of six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs.

He said Tuesday that Seoul and Washington have "a common view" on food aid to North Korea, which has relied heavily on international handouts since a massive famine hit in the mid-1990s.

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