08/04/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA – NORTH KOREA
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Seoul: religious leaders call for peace and aid to North Korea

Representatives of the seven major religions in Korea called for peaceful dialogue, bearing in mind the current international situation, between Seoul and Pyongyang. Aid delivery from the South to the flood-stricken North Korean population was resumed.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The Korean Council of Religious Leaders issued a statement urging all Korean believers to work for the resumption of dialogue between the two Koreas, which was abruptly stopped after Pyongyang conducted missile test launches on 4 July.

The council is composed of representatives from the peninsula's seven major faiths and their statement is entitled "For Peace in the Korean Peninsula and Reunification of the Nation". At the moment the Most Rev. Hyginus Kim Hee-jooing, President of the Bishops' Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue, represents the Catholic Church on this Council. 

The council said in its statement: "The problems of Korean Peninsula can be resolved with a win-win method through peaceful dialogue. This however should be based on a profound understanding on international situation." The leaders added: "For the brotherly love and harmony of the Korean People, operations that help the nation should not be suspended, like the dispatch of humanitarian aid to victims of recent floods, and the reunion of family members long separated by the border. Political interests should take second place after such considerations."

It seems their appeal has not fallen on deaf ears. Seoul yesterday sent the first shipload of humanitarian aid to the population of North Korea, hard hit in July by floods that claimed an unspecified number of victims. Pyongyang claimed that "a few dozen" people were killed while the United Nations said 154 – a figure confirmed by Caritas Internationalis – and a South Korean NGO "Good Friends" put the death toll at more than 10,000.

This is the first dispatch of aid Seoul is ending to the North after it decided to suspend delivery following the launch of missiles against Japan that plunged into the sea a few seconds after takeoff. Eight containers carrying 100 tonnes of flour, 37,500 packs of instant noodles and 15,000 blankets were aboard the ship. Meanwhile, North Korea's Red Cross has rejected an offer from its South Korean counterpart for aid to flood victims, saying it would handle the disaster on its own.

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