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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 August 2006, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
South Korean flood aid for North
Lim Yong-hoon, chief of inter-Korean affairs at South Korea's Red Cross, left, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Pak Yong Il
South Korean officials met with Northern counterparts on Saturday
South Korea has pledged 100,000 tons of rice and construction material to flood-ravaged North Korea.

The pledge comes on top of a 20bn won (US$20m) donation that the South's government and civic groups have promised to their communist neighbour.

"It is a separate case from annual aid to the North," Vice Minister of Unification Shin Eon-sang said during a news conference.

North Korea was hit by torrential rains and high winds last month.

Pyongyang had originally declined an offer of aid from the Red Cross in South Korea, but asked for help to recover from mid-July's storms.

'Hundreds dead'

The agreement came after meetings on Saturday at a hotel in a tourist resort on North Korea's east coast.

"We are grateful the South Korean government has decided to help us, although it is also having difficulties due to flood damage in the south," a North Korean delegate was quoted as saying by South Korean news agency Yonhap.

A South Korean aid group reported the storms left 58,000 people dead or missing, the AP news agency reported.

The North has admitted hundreds died, but has not given specific numbers, AP said.

Sunday's promise of aid comes amid mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula over the communist North's missile programme and fears the secretive state may be preparing for an underground nuclear bomb test.

Recent missile tests prompted the United Nations Security Council to condemn the North and ban UN member states from supplying missile technology.

US television network ABC said there were signs of a possible upcoming nuclear test, but on Friday South Korea said there was no clear evidence of an impending test, AP said.

The BBC's Kevin Kim, in Seoul, says the rice shipment agreed this weekend is only 20% of what North Korea had requested in earlier talks, but officials in Seoul hope it could help improve increasingly soured relations.




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