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South Korea to allow food aid to North for first time since Kim's death

From Jiyeon Lee and Jethro Mullen, CNN
January 20, 2012 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
File photo of South Korea's trucks carrying 530 tons of flour for North Korean flood victims on September 16, 2010.
File photo of South Korea's trucks carrying 530 tons of flour for North Korean flood victims on September 16, 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A South Korean group plans to send 180 tons of flour to schools and day care centers
  • The shipment is the first since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last month
  • North Korea's dysfunctional economy has resulted in widespread malnutrition
  • The United States suspended food aid to North Korea in 2009

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- The South Korean government on Friday approved the first shipment of food aid to North Korea since the death of dictator Kim Jong Il last month.

The South Korean Unification Ministry has given the green light to the sending on January 27 of 180 tons of flour to elementary schools and day care centers by the Korea Peace Foundation, Kim Hyung-suk, a ministry spokesman, said at a briefing.

North Korea has agreed to receive the shipment, according to the ministry.

Pyongyang announced Kim's death on December 19, setting off speculation about the stability of the reclusive state and its possible consequences for the broader region. Kim's youngest son and chosen successor, Kim Jong Un, has replaced him as the regime's "supreme leader."

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The country's dysfunctional economy, hurt by failed policies and international sanctions, has resulted in famines and widespread malnutrition during the past two decades. Other countries and international organizations have repeatedly stepped in with food aid, most recently to alleviate chronic malnutrition among the most vulnerable groups.

The food aid this month is coming from the peace foundation, a civic group. The South Korean government halted official food aid to the North in 2008, when President Lee Myung-bak's administration took office. Lee has taken a harder line toward Pyongyang than his two most recent predecessors.

His government has allowed civic groups to send assistance to the North providing they secure official approval. And it agreed for the first time last year to offer food aid through international organizations.

The United States suspended shipments of food aid to North Korea in 2009 amid tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program and concerns that the supplies were not reaching those most in need.

Just before the elder Kim's death, the United States had held discussions with North Korean officials in Beijing to look at monitoring mechanisms required before America could extend food assistance to the North Korean people. The offer of food aid was seen as a way to get North Korea back to negotiations over its uranium enrichment program.

The mourning period following Kim's death appeared to put those efforts on hold.

Eight officials from the foundation will visit North Korea to deliver the aid on January 27, and two will stay until the following day to monitor the delivery of the food, according to the ministry.

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