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N. Korea accepts flood aid offer from South

SEOUL -- Impoverished North Korea has accepted an offer of aid from rival South Korea after devastating summer floods, the South said on Monday, the first time the new leadership in Pyongyang has accepted aid from Seoul.

In an unusually grim assessment of the North's grain harvest this year, South Korea said last week that crop production for the year probably dropped by more than 10 percent due to flooding and a drought.

The South's aid offer comes after the U.N. World Food Program said last month it would send a first batch of emergency food aid to the isolated state.

North Korea's state media has reported at least 200 people have been killed this summer due to flooding and a typhoon, and more than 200,000 left homeless. Tens of thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said the North's acceptance of its aid offer means discussions will take place to work out how much and what kind of relief materials will be sent.

Past discussions have been fraught with complications, highlighting the politically sensitive nature of the rivals' ties in recent years.

South Korea's offer of help last year was pulled when the North asked for building materials and equipment instead of food and medicine worth nearly US$5 million as offered.

Since the death of the North's iron ruler Kim Jong Il last December, the country's new leadership under his youngest son Kim Jong Un has increased its verbal attacks against the South, and relations have gone back into a deep freeze.

North Korea, which has been accused of channeling much of its scarce resources to running its military and its arms program, has trouble feeding its population of 24 million even in years of good harvest.

Conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ended a decade of lucrative large-scale aid to the North when he came to office in 2008 demanding Pyongyang stop its nuclear arms program and initiate economic reforms first.

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