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(LEAD) S. Korea expected to approve civilian flour aid for N. Koreans

All Headlines 16:05 July 19, 2011

(ATTN: CHANGES 'food aid' to 'flour aid' in lead para; ADDS details, approval of other aid in paras 6-7)

SEOUL, July 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is expected to soon allow civic groups to send flour and other supplies to needy North Koreans in what would be the first approval of flour aid since the North's deadly shelling of a southern island last November, according to civic groups and government officials Tuesday.

The South's Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC), a coalition of pro-unification civic and social groups, requested last week the Unification Ministry to provide 1,035 tons of flour and two tons of infant milk formula in aid to feed some North Koreans.

Other civic groups have also requested the ministry, which authorizes cross-border contacts, to send flour aid to North Korea.

Responding to the growing requests by private groups on flour aid, a ministry official said, "The government has not excluded flour from a list of humanitarian aid items for North Korea."

"However, it should be monitored to confirm whether the flour is delivered to the intended recipients," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Inter-Korean relations plunged to one of their lowest points last November, when North Korea bombarded the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong, killing two Marines and two civilians.

Since the shelling, South Korea had banned civic groups from sending humanitarian aid to North Korea. Starting in March, the ministry began selectively allowing private groups to provide aid for North Koreans, but no approval on flour aid has been made. Flour was last sent to the North last October to help victims in flood-hit areas.

Meanwhile, four civic groups on Tuesday gained the ministry's approval to deliver powdered milk, diapers, notebooks and antituberculosis drugs to vulnerable North Koreans in different parts of the country. The latest batch brings the total value of aid since March to 3.65 billion won (US$3.44 million) in 31 separate deliveries.

Despite cross-border tensions, the Seoul government comes under increasing pressure from domestic and foreign human rights groups to resume food aid to the North, particularly after the European Union's decision to give emergency food aid worth 10 million euros to the impoverished communist nation.

The EU said its aid will be delivered via the World Food Program and it will strictly monitor their deliveries to ensure that the aid is not diverted to the North's military or ruling elite.

Asked about the level of monitoring in the case that the government approves the flour aid, the official replied, "It would not be the level the EU demanded North Korea while resuming the food aid."

Officials at the civic groups were upbeat over the government's apparent flexible stance on flour aid.

"Given the recent mood, our request for flour aid is expected to be approved," said a KCRC official.

South Korea suspended its annual government-funded aid of 400,000 tons of rice in 2008 when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office with a policy of linking assistance to progress in efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear programs.

Seoul is also known to have reservations about Washington's move to resume food aid to Pyongyang, which has not shown any clear sign of keeping its earlier denuclearization commitment.

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