South Korea restarts humanitarian aid to North

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SEOUL, Dec 18 (Reuters) - North Korea on Friday accepted a batch of medicine from the South to combat a swine flu outbreak, the first shipment of humanitarian aid from its neighbour in about two years.

Pyongyang severed almost all ties with Seoul in anger at the policies of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in February 2008 and ended what once was a steady stream of unconditional handouts to the impoverished North.

North Korea, stung by fresh U.N. sanctions for a nuclear test in May that have dealt a blow to its already broken economy, has reached out to adversaries South Korea and the United States in the past few months in what analysts saw as an attempt to ease pressure on its finances.

Pyongyang has also recently signalled it was ready to resume stalled international nuclear disarmament talks, where it has won aid in return for reducing the military threat it poses to North Asia, which is responsible for one-sixth of the global economy.

South Korea sent about 500,000 doses of anti-viral medicine in refrigerated trucks across the border to help the North battle the outbreak of swine flu.

President Lee shifted policy in October when his government said it would resume humanitarian handouts and planned to send 10,000 tonnes of corn across the border.

Lee has said he would send massive aid if and when the North scraps its atomic arms programme.

The North did not respond, with analysts saying Pyongyang saw the offer as too stingy. The corn has not been delivered.

Analysts say North Korea probably accepted Friday's medicine because it came with few strings attached.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Christine Kim; Editing by David Fox)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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