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S. Korea offers to send flood aid to North

SEOUL -- South Korea has proposed sending emergency relief aid to North Korea, the first such offer since ties sank into a deep freeze after the death of the North's leader last December.

The South's Red Cross chief sent a proposal on Monday calling for talks with North Korea on the shipment of aid, the Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said Friday.

Official aid from the South to the North often goes through the Red Cross as a matter of formality.

South Korea last sent such aid two years ago, although civilian groups have been allowed to ship aid to the impoverished North despite high cross-border tensions.

Minister Yu Woo-ik told parliament Pyongyang had not yet reacted to the offer.

“We have conveyed our willingness to help North Korea's efforts to overcome flood damage,” he said, adding a drought this spring and floods this summer appeared to have brought severe damage to the North.

Yu's comment came a day after his ministry approved a request from Christian relief group World Vision to send 500 tons of flour to North Korean flood victims next week.

Pyongyang's state news agency said earlier that floods in June and July left 569 people dead or missing and washed away or inundated 65,280 hectares (161,310 acres) of cropland.

A strong typhoon which hit the Korean Peninsula last Tuesday killed 48 people and damaged at least 50,000 hectares of farmland in the North, it said on Monday.

North Korea suffers chronic food shortages, with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement. During a famine in the mid to late-1990s hundreds of thousands died.

Last year the North rejected the South's proposal to provide flood aid saying the offer did not include cement or food staples like rice. Seoul fears rice and cement can be diverted to the military.

Relations remain frosty, and there has been no substantial cross-border dialogue since the North's new leader Kim Jong Un came to power.

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