N. Korea requests S. Korea to send rice, equipment in flood aid

N. Korea requests S. Korea to send rice, equipment in flood aid

North Korea has asked South Korea to send rice, cement and construction equipment to help the communist country recover from floods, an official said Tuesday, Yonhap reported.

The request by the North's Red Cross was made on Saturday, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters. It was made in a message sent through an inter-Korean office in the North's border town of Kaesong, just two days before Pyongyang said it would release the crew members of a South Korean fishing boat it had seized on Aug. 8 for allegedly trespassing into its waters.

South Korea's Red Cross had offered on Aug. 31 to provide 10 billion won (US$8.5 million) in flood aid, but that excluded rice, a staple which Seoul has stopped sending to Pyongyang amid strained inter-Korean relations since early 2008.

"If the South is to send flood aid, it will be better that resources and equipment necessary for recovery from flood damage be sent along with rice rather than emergency food, basic supplies and medical aid," Chun quoted the North's message as saying.

Chun said the North cited cement and excavators among others, telling reporters that Seoul was "considering the North's request."

The Red Cross is the South's main channel for humanitarian cooperation with North Korea. If sent, the aid would contrast with the tension that has built up since Seoul blamed Pyongyang in May for the deadly sinking of its warship. Pyongyang denies involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.

The August rains that pounded the border area between China and North Korea deluged crop fields, houses and public buildings in the North's border town of Sinuiju, according to television footage released by Pyongyang.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the flood killed 14 people and prompted tens of thousands of others to evacuate to a North Korean border area.

North Korea is vulnerable to natural disasters because of its lack of investment in disaster control and severe deforestation.

"Providing construction equipment would be an unrealistic option for the South because there is possibility that it could later be used for military purposes," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said. "Cement wouldn't draw too much controversy."

North Korea has told South Korea that it would hand over the seven crew members of the seized fishing boat at their maritime border in the East Sea on Tuesday afternoon. The crew is comprised of four South Korean and three Chinese fishermen.

In 2006, 86.3 billion won worth of flood aid was shipped from South Korea to North Korea and 58.9 billion won the following year, according to the Unification Ministry.

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