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May 29, 2017

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South Korea offers US$13.3 million for United Nations aid projects in North

SEOUL -- South Korea said Monday it would provide US$13.3 million in funding for U.N. humanitarian projects in North Korea — its second indirect aid package for the North in a month.

Seoul's Unification Ministry seven million dollars would go to World Food Programme (WFP) projects in the North, and US$6.3 million to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The decision came a month after the ministry approved US$2.9 million in financial support for Seoul civic groups providing assistance to North Korea.

It was the first time that Seoul had funded such civic projects in four years, after the government imposed tough economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

The South cut off most trade with and aid to the North in 2010 after the sinking of the naval corvette Cheonan with the loss of 46 lives.

Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing the ship, although the North has always angrily denied involvement.

Cross-border ties have remained largely icy for years since then, but Seoul has occasionally offered funds for U.N. projects in the North on humanitarian grounds.

But Monday's announcement marks the first funding for the WFP since 2007.

The U.N. estimates that nearly 2.4 million people in the impoverished North need regular food assistance and 28 percent of children under 5 suffer chronic malnutrition.

Pyongyang has been playing hawk and dove in recent months, carrying out an extended series of missile tests while making occasional peace gestures toward Seoul.

The North had proposed sending athletes and cheerleaders to the Asian Games that begin late September in the South Korean city of Incheon.

But talks to sort out logistics fell apart last month with the North accusing the South of arrogance, and threatening to boycott the event.

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