Pyongyang demands massive aid amid talks on family reunions

Seoul, Oct 27 (DPA) North Korea has demanded 500,000 tonnes of rice and 300,000 tonnes of fertilizer from its Southern neighbour, a news report said Wednesday.

The North Korean Red Cross made the demands during discussions with its counterpart about reunions of families divided by the peninsula’s split after the 1959-53 Korean War, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency said.

The first such reunions for two years were scheduled to take place from Saturday to next Friday in the North Korean resort of Mount Kumgang, and run in cooperation with the South.

Seoul used to provide 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes of rice to the impoverished North annually, but stopped large-scale aid in 2008 when conservative President Lee Myung Bak took office, and demanded that any further aid be linked to steps towards denuclearisation.

The South Korean delegation to the Red Cross talks said did not have the authority to approve such a request, but Seoul was pondering the matter, reports said.

Tensions have been running high between the Koreas since the sinking of a South Korean navy vessel in March in which 46 sailors died, and which Seoul blames on the North. Pyongyang denies any involvement.

Ties have thawed slightly recently, with South Korea sending its northern neighbour 5,000 tonnes of rice in emergency aid to flood-stricken areas earlier this week, and the breakthrough in allowing family reunions to resume.

Discussions between the two countries’ Red Cross societies were continuing on the topic of future family reunions. Sources did not confirm whether the North’s aid request was a prerequisite to any further reunions.

South Korea has suggested that family reunions be held once a month, to allow some of the 80,000 Koreans separated from their families a chance to see their loved ones.

Technically at war since the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, the two Koreas never signed a formal peace treaty, and there is almost no civilian communication across the border.

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