Asia

South Korea to send medical aid to North Korea

A South Korean truck loaded with sacks of flour for North Koreans leaves for the North Korean city of Kaesong on 26 July 2011
Image caption The flow of aid from South to North has stalled amid highly tense ties

South Korea will resume sending medical aid to North Korea via the United Nations, officials say.

The government in Seoul has authorised the World Health Organization (WHO) to release $6.94m (£4.32m) to equip North Korean hospitals, the South's unification ministry said.

The money was frozen in 2010 after Seoul accused Pyongyang of sinking its warship with the loss of 46 lives.

But in recent months there have been signs that tension is easing.

Representatives from both sides have met to discuss resuming nuclear disarmament talks, and there have been a number of informal visits.

South Korea donated a total of $13.12m to the WHO for North Korean humanitarian aid in 2009.

But in the wake of the warship sinking - and North Korean shelling of a border island later that year - Seoul withheld permission for the money to be released.

A South Korean official quoted by Yonhap news agency said Seoul's decision to release the funds had been made "taking into account its stance of maintaining its humanitarian aid for infants, children and other vulnerable people in the North".

The move came three days after Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik discussed the issue with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

North Korea relies on humanitarian aid to feed its people, after years of famine in the late 1990s. Unicef says a fifth of all children in the impoverished country are malnourished.

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