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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Koreas agree after fraught talks
Unloading aid in North Korea
South Korea has agreed to send further food aid to the North
North and South Korea have finally reached an agreement after several days of fraught negotiations in Pyongyang over economic co-operation.

South Korea has agreed to ship 400,000 tonnes of rice to its bankrupt neighbour next month, and the two countries have also pledged to mark the reconnection of a inter-Korean rail link and a joint industrial initiative.

There had been fears that the talks would end with no concrete resolution, as negotiations were overshadowed by the ongoing nuclear impasse between North Korea and the United States.

The talks nearly ended during the first formal session, after the North warned that the South would face an "unspeakable disaster" if it sided with the United States in its standoff over the North's nuclear ambitions.

The warning was the North's first public reaction to a joint statement by the presidents of South Korea and the US last week - in which they said they could not accept a nuclearised North Korea, and warned that if there was any increase in tensions they would consider "further steps".

The inter-Korean talks finally resumed after the North said its warning was merely intended to underline the importance of preventing war on the peninsula - which would have a devastating effect on both countries.

Concession

The BBC correspondent in Seoul, Caroline Gluck, says the North's conciliatory gesture was a bitter pill for the proud nation to swallow, which may underline just how desperately the country needs food and economic assistance.

But Seoul is equally desperate to keep open the channels of communication with its northern neighbour, our correspondent says.

According to press reports from the inter-Korean talks on Friday, Seoul and Pyongyang have agreed to hold a ceremony in honour of the reconnection of the Gyeongui and Donghae rail lines.

They also announced plans to start building work on a joint industrial zone in the North Korean city of Kaesong in June, and to co-operate on flood prevention measures.

South Korea's promised food aid will be delivered in instalments, underlining the South's insistence that there should be more transparency in aid distribution to allay fears that it would be diverted to the North's armed forces.




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