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(LEAD) N. Korea OKs private agencies to ship medical aid to N. Korea

All Headlines 15:24 February 23, 2012

(ATTN: RECASTS with S. Korea's approval of medical aid to N. Korea; CHANGES headline and lead; TRIMS)

SEOUL, Feb. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will allow private aid agencies to ship medical supplies to North Korea, an official said Thursday, despite lingering tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The decision made Wednesday gave a green light to Nanum International and the Eugene Bell Foundation to send a set of X-ray equipment and tuberculosis-related medical supplies, respectively, to the North, according to the official from the Unification Ministry.

North Korean hospitals are often ill-equipped to treat patients due to a lack of medicines and other supplies, according to outside experts who have visited the country.

All aid to the North from South Korea must first win approval from the government.

South Korea has approved a series of humanitarian aid missions to the North despite tensions on the Korean Peninsula over the North's two deadly attacks against the South in 2010.

In November, the South Korean government also resumed medical aid to North Korea through the World Health Organization to give basic medical supplies and medical facilities to North Korean hospitals.

It was not immediately clear whether the impoverished country would accept the latest private aid, valued at 79 million won (US$70,000).

Seoul's approval came a day after Pyongyang banned its Buddhist officials from meeting with their South Korean counterparts in the North's border city of Kaesong.

South Korean Buddhist monks traveled to Kaesong Tuesday for previously arranged talks with their North Korean counterparts on a joint project to return artifacts seized by Japan during its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.

The two sides also planned to discuss how to display in Pyongyang some of about 1,200 ancient Korean royal books Japan returned to South Korea in December. Some of the books record and illustrate royal protocols used during the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1392 to 1910.

The North Korean Buddhist officials did not show up at the meeting, however, according to another South Korean government official. The North reportedly boycotted the meeting in protest at South Korea's live-fire drills near their disputed western sea border on Monday.

The North had threatened military action against Seoul's military drills, although no clash occurred.

The South Korean Buddhist monks who traveled to the North were not immediately available for comment.


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