South Korea approves costly North Korean relief request
Seoul originally offered one million dollars in aid but has agreed to a new request for more costly items including cement, bulldozers, television sets and food.
With the damage topping 300 million euros (356 million US dollars) by North Korea's calculation, the impoverished country has called for additional aid from the South.
Seoul sent a message to Pyongyang through a border hotline saying it was ready to start shipping construction equipment and other items next week.
"Our donations to North Korea are estimated at up to 25 million dollars," Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun told reporters.
The new offer came as the first shipment of aid from the South reached North Korea's western showcase port of Nampo through a direct sea route used for inter-Korean trade.
The goods including emergency medical kits, instant noodles, mineral water, blankets, towels and clothes will be transported by road to the site of the accident that left at least 161 people dead and 1,300 injured at Ryongchon near the Chinese border.
North Korea, however, has set tight restrictions on how the donations could be delivered and refused permission for South Koreans to travel to the site, signalling that a thaw with the outside world was still some way off.
Pyongyang responded to the disaster with unusual speed by its standards, issuing an official announcement within two days and accepting aid from abroad. Foreign diplomats and aid workers were also taken to the site.
However, South Korea was barred from using a quicker overland route across the tense border. No reason was given for the decision, which experts said showed the North's determination to keep its society shut off from the outside world.
The Stalinist country has also refused to allow South Korean doctors and other specialists into the site, even though early treatment of disaster victims, especially those suffering burns and blast injuries, is crucial.
Yet, South Korean officials said they would send aid to Ryongchon, a transportation hub of 130,000 people close to the Chinese border.
North Korea suggested Thursday it hoped to rebuild Ryongchon.
"Our plan is to completely refurbish all," according to the North's Central Broadcasting Station, monitored by Yonhap News Agency in Seoul.
Work is under way to build "modern living quarters and public buildings on the leveled space," it said, adding North Korea planned to complete the rehabilitation work within three months.
North Korea compared the power of the blast to "100 bombs, each weighing one ton" going off at the same time. Outside visitors said virtually all buildings were blown off up to 500 meters (yards) from the blast site.
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 04/28/2004 23:57:17
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