DPRK

DPR Korea: Seoul agrees no-strings rice aid to North

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South Korea has agreed to send 400,000 tons of rice worth W108 billion (US$1=W928) including transport costs to North Korea starting late May. The agreement came in the 13th Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Promotion Committee talks concluded in Pyongyang on Sunday, where the two also agreed on a trial run of two cross-border railways on May 17.

Seoul apparently backed down over making the rice aid conditional on denuclearization efforts. "We made it clear to North Korea that unless the Feb. 13 agreement is implemented as scheduled, it is difficult to get approval for the rice aid from the National Assembly," chief South Korean negotiator Chin dong-soo said, adding implementation of the six-nation denuclearization agreement "is the key." But the matter was not included in the text of the agreement due to the opposition from the North.

It therefore seems likely Seoul will have to send the rice even if the North fails to shut down its nuclear facilities.

In a separate letter of agreement on food aid, the two Koreas said, "The first shipment shall leave port in late May 2007." The North Korean delegates walked out of the conference room last Thursday, when the South Korean delegation urged North Korea in its keynote speech to implement the Feb. 13 agreement.

On the cross-border railways, the two Koreas already reached a detailed agreement for a trial run of the Gyeongui and Donghae lines, which were shelved only a day before the scheduled trial run, apparently due to reluctance of the North Korean military to guarantee safe passage. Sunday's agreement does not mention this either, saying only, "The two sides shall cooperate so that military guarantees are implemented before the trial run of trains." Whether the North Korean military had changed its position is unclear.

Chief South Korean negotiator Chin Dong-soo shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Ju Dong-chan after exchanging letters of agreement during the last day of the 13th Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Committee talks in Pyongyang on Sunday.

The two Koreas have agreed three times to conduct a trial run of the Donghae and Geongui lines since 2004, but they floundered each time on last-minute resistance from the North Korean military. The two also agreed to launch a project of cooperation in light industry and underground resources development in June conditional on the trial run. South Korea would provide the North with light-industry materials and Pyongyang will give South Korea the right to develop underground resources.