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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Red Cross Arranges Korean Food Aid

BEIJING -- In a triumph of pragmatism over politics, Red Cross officials from rivals North and South Korea signed an agreement Monday on providing crucial food aid for the hunger-stricken North.

The 50,000 tons of food, mostly corn, that the South Koreans agreed to provide by the end of July is enough to feed 600,000 people, more than four times the current number of North Koreans receiving Red Cross aid, for half a year, according to Red Cross figures.

About one-third of the promised aid -- 15,000 tons -- was already on its way by train from China, said Johan Schaar, a Red Cross spokesman.

Both sides, meeting despite the lingering enmity between their governments, made significant concessions. The two Red Cross groups are both closely tied with their governments and until early May this year had not met in nearly five years.

In the agreement, the North Korean Red Cross accepted that aid would be labeled as having come from South Korean donors and agreed to open more delivery routes and to send food to areas or people requested by South Korean donors.

The South Koreans, meanwhile, dropped a demand for deliveries through the heavily-guarded demilitarized zone that divides North and South. That would have been humiliating for the North, which preaches self-reliance, and difficult to conceal from its people.

The agreement, reached after talks Friday, Saturday and Sunday, was the first between the North's and South's Red Cross groups since 1985.

"They were determined to agree and there was a strong wish from both sides to accommodate each other's views,'' said Schaar. "This in itself proves also that sometimes when relations between governments are difficult the Red Cross channel is always there.''

The North's agreement on channeling aid to areas or people requested by South Korean donors could allow millions of South Koreans to send food to relatives in the North whom they have not seen for five decades, South Korean officials said.

Millions of people were separated in the 1945 division of the Korean Peninsula and in the 1950-53 war between the two sides. No peace treaty was signed after the war and tensions between the two sides have stymied most efforts to organize family reunions.

South Korean Red Cross officials said the agreement "will be a momentum to increase mutual cooperation between the two Koreas on the basis of humanitarianism.'' South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles North Korea policy, said, "North Korea's flood victims will be able to perceive our care more accurately as the result of the agreement.''