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SEOUL, July 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is closely cooperating with the World Food Programme (WFP) to discuss sanctions exemptions with the United Sates over its plan to send rice aid to North Korea, a unification ministry official said Tuesday.
Last month, the unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs unveiled a plan to provide 50,000 tons of domestically harvested rice to North Korea through the WFP, which will handle its delivery and distribution there.
Details on how and when the assistance will be delivered are under discussion between South Korea and the WFP, and securing sanctions exemptions necessary for possible use of ships and other equipment to send rice to the North is one of key issues they should sort out.
"Rice itself is not subject to sanctions, but using ships to transport it could have to do with sanctions," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "The WFP is in consultation (with the U.S.), and our government is also cooperating in the process."
Under U.S. sanctions on Pyongyang, vessels making a port call to North Korea are banned from entering harbors in the U.S. for 180 days.
South Korea aims to send the food assistance to the North before the lean season starts in September. The official said that Seoul aims to make the first shipment to the North within this month.
The government recently completed administrative procedures necessary to carry out the rice provision plan. It will set aside around 127 billion won (US$109.3 million) to secure rice from the local market, along with some $12 million in additional funds to help the WFP's delivery and distribution efforts.
The official said that the government will sign an official contract with the WFP over its plan for rice provision to the North either on Tuesday or Wednesday.
He also expressed confidence that rice distribution in the North would be carried out in a transparent way, saying that the WFP is armed with necessary know-how and personnel.
"The WFP plans to open more local offices (in the North) and double the number of monitoring personnel (from the current 50)," he said. "I think the WFP has a well-established monitoring plan and high capacity on that matter."
It marks the first time for South Korea to provide rice to North Korea since 2010, when it sent 5,000 tons to support its efforts to recover from flood damage. It will also be the first time Seoul has sent locally harvested rice to the North through an international agency.
Earlier this month, Seoul donated $8 million to the WFP and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) for their projects in North Korea to support the nutrition of children and pregnant women and address their health problems. The ministry is considering making an additional donation to such global agencies.
The ongoing drought in many parts of the North and a recent outbreak of African swine fever in the country are feared to add to the already strained food supply by hurting its harvest this year and the livestock industry.
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