North Korea asks South for flood relief

North Korea requested a shipment of rice, cement and heavy equipment days after South Korea offered relief aid to its communist neighbour to help it recover from recent flooding, the Unification Ministry said.

An overflowing river last month swamped farmland, houses and public buildings in the North’s north-western city of Sinuiju and adjacent areas.

State media reported that the region was “severely affected” by the flooding, though details of the damage remain unknown.

North Korea observers fear the flooding worsened the country’s chronic food shortages.

Last week, South Korea’s Red Cross sent a message to its North Korean counterpart and proposed sending medicines, daily necessities and emergency food worth 10 billion won (€6.6m).

The North’s Red Cross replied on Saturday that it would prefer rice, cement and heavy equipment – items it said were necessary for flood recovery efforts, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry and Red Cross.

South Korea was reviewing the North’s request, the Unification Ministry said in a statement today.

Red Cross official Kim Sung-keun said the bulk of the aid, if sent, would be financed by the South Korean government.

The aid offer came despite continuing tension over March’s deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang, an attack that the North flatly denies.

In retaliation, South Korea cut off nearly all trade with North Korea but continued shipping humanitarian aid for the vulnerable, including infants and pregnant women.

Yesterday, North Korea announced it would free a seven-man crew of a South Korean fishing boat seized a month ago in its waters, calling it a “humanitarian” gesture.

The four South Korean and three Chinese fisherman and their vessel would be repatriated to the South at the Koreas’ eastern sea border this afternoon, officials said.

They were taken into custody on August 8, accused of fishing illegally in North Korea’s exclusive economic zone off the east coast of the divided Korean peninsula.

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