08/31/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA – NORTH KOREA
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Aid leaves for north, managed by Red Cross

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

The first shipment includes food, clothes and medicine and it left yesterday for Nampo port. The Red Cross hopes the aid program "brings the two Koreas closer" after relations between them cooled because of the missile crisis provoked by Pyongyang in July.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The South Korean government yesterday shipped its first batch of humanitarian aid to North Korea, struck by heavy floods last month.

The aid has gone via the Red Cross. The shipment includes 300 tons of rice and 20,000 blankets. There is also medicine and tinned food. This aid had been halted after Pyongyang's test-firing of missiles on July 4.

The ship, Trade Fortune, was loaded at the western port of Inchon: four Red Cross officials are on board to supervise the delivery, and they are expected to arrive at the North Korean port of Nampo this evening.

Not all the aid due has been delivered in this shipment: 100,000 tons of rice, 100, 80,000 blankets and more than 200 construction vehicles will be delivered by mid-October.

Before the ship left, Han Wan-sang, chairman of the Korean Red Cross, said: "The torrential rain also left damage in South Korea, but we decided to send the flood relief to North Koreans, who face a much more dire situation. I hope the two Koreas can find a way to return to dialogue, perhaps through this aid program.''

Vice Unification Minister Shin Un-sang underlined the "great importance of this shipment as it was based on agreement between the government, opposition and the people."

Torrential rains poured down on the peninsula for the entire month of August but it is still difficult to establish the exact number of victims of the disaster in the North: according to the most credible estimates, 900 people died and an unknown number are missing.

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