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South Korea Urges Hungry North to Accept Corn Aid

South Korea says it is willing to send tens of thousands of tons of immediate food aid to impoverished North Korea. The aid would fulfill a deal made during the previous South Korean administration, but may not ease a stalemate between Pyongyang and the South's current president. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong said Wednesday the South is offering North Korea 50,000 tons of corn, to ease the North's food shortages.

He says, considering the fact the North's food situation is bad and likely to become worse, the government has decided to resume corn aid to the North, in fulfillment of an agreement made by the last South Korean administration.

Previous South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's administration cited soaring corn prices as the reason it did not deliver the food during Mr. Roh's term. Current South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has made food aid contingent on progress by Pyongyang in getting rid of its nuclear weapons and several other issues.

North Korea angrily responded by labeling Mr. Lee a traitor and threatening to turn Seoul into ash. Pyongyang has suspended practically all diplomatic contacts with the Lee administration and has remained silent on the South's offer to provide aid without preconditions as long as the North makes a formal request.

Unification Minister Kim says the South reprised the Roh administration corn offer, three weeks ago, via the Red Cross.

He says the South is using Wednesday's announcement to once again expressing its willingness to fulfill the agreement and that he hopes the North will respond favorably. He says, if North Korea does not respond, South Korea may consider donating food to the North, via the World Food Program.

President Lee has adopted a far stiffer approach to aiding North Korea than his two predecessors - both of whom sent hundreds of thousands of tons of rice and fertilizer across the border every year, with no strings attached.

Do Hee-youn is president of the Seoul-based Citizen's Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees. He says South Korea does not need to be in a hurry to provide the North with food aid.

Do says decades of hunger in North Korea are to be blamed on the North Korean government's own decisions. He says handing over food aid without changing Pyongyang's basic food policies would be like "pouring water into a broken jar."