S. Korean lawmakers mull rice aid to DPRK

20:16, September 01, 2010      

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With Seoul-Pyongyang relations at the lowest ebb in years, some here began looking to potential rice aid to neighbors north of the border as a means to defuse tension on the divided peninsula.

In a rare show of bipartisan unity, South Korean lawmakers have become increasingly vociferous in demanding that the government recommence rice aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ( DPRK).

"The Democratic Party urges the government to immediately resume humanitarian rice aid to North Korea (DPRK), faced with shortage of food," the country's main opposition party demanded in a statement Wednesday.

"The government will confront global criticism if it, for whatever reasons, puts off humanitarian assistance to the North."

Cutting a free flow of rice aid to the DPRK, which had amounted to 300,000 to 400,000 tons each year, was among the first things President Lee Myung-bak did as he took office in February 2008.

A hard-liner toward Pyongyang, Lee ended a decade of kumbaya- like mood under his liberal predecessors by linking aid to dismantlement of the DPRK's nuclear programs, a move that raised Pyongyang's ire.

The fatal sinking of a South Korean warship in March did not help matters. As a response to what is believed to be Pyongyang's torpedo attack on the navy corvette, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, Seoul in May suspended virtually all exchanges with its wartime rival despite its repeated denial of responsibility.

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