Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 4 News List

South Korea still sending rice aid to North Korea

AP , SEOUL

South Korea will offer North Korea rice aid even though Pyongyang may miss a deadline for shutting down its atomic reactor under an international disarmament agreement, a South Korean official said yesterday.

Top Asian officials voiced concerns earlier this week that the North was unlikely to meet the April 14 deadline because of glitches in the transfer of North Korean money in a Macau bank that had been frozen because of US allegations of money laundering.

The South "will give rice to the North as scheduled" after economic talks between the two countries set for April 18 to April 21 in Pyongyang, Vice Unification Minister Shin Eon-sang told reporters.

The North had requested 400,000 tonnes of rice from Seoul during high-level talks last month.

"The momentum for inter-Korean development should not be lost," Shin said.

Seoul, a key aid donor to the North, had put off discussing the humanitarian assistance until the economic talks, planned just days after the April 14 deadline for Pyongyang to shut off its main nuclear reactor.

The timing for the aid was believed to add additional pressure on North Korea to comply with an international disarmament agreement.

The North had pledged in February to shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor by mid-April in exchange for energy aid and other political concessions.

North Korea boycotted nuclear talks because of its anger over Washington blacklisting a Macau bank where Pyongyang had about US$25 million. During that year, the North also conducted its first-ever nuclear test. Pyongyang only agreed to return to six-nation arms talks after the US said it would address the financial issue.

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