North Korea has asked its neighbour for rice aid following severe flooding this year, the South's Unification Ministry said on Tuesday, signalling an easing of tensions on the peninsula.
The request came after Seoul last week offered to provide 10 billion won ($8.5 million) in emergency aid including food, relief materials and first aid kits. That offer did not include rice or construction equipment, as per the North's request.
If the rivals, which have been in a tense standoff over the sinking of one of South Korea's navy ships in March agree on a package, it will be the first large scale aid shipment from Seoul since the incident.
Talk of a resumption in aid and the North's decision on Monday to release a South Korean fishing boat and its seven-man crew after a month in captivity indicates a slight thaw in frigid ties between the states which are still technically at war.
The fishing vessel and its crew, including three Chinese, are expected to be handed over later on Tuesday.
Pyongyang's request for aid was made through the North's Red Cross on the weekend, the Unification Ministry said in a statement. The request is being reviewed, it said.
Heavy rains in July and August have hit food production that even in a good year falls a million tonnes short of the amount needed to feed the North's 23 million people.
The United States has expanded financial sanctions against the North amid signs that the isolated state, under intense economic pressure stemming from international condemnation for its provocations, is hoping for a resumption of aid-for-disarmament talks.
South Korea had all but shut the door on dialogue with the North after the sinking of its navy ship, demanding an apology, meanwhile, it has come under pressure domestically to offer humanitarian assistance.
ReutersLast Mod: 07 Eylül 2010, 12:50