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N. Korea wants food, cement as aid from S. Korea

SEOUL, August 4, 2011 (AFP) - North Korea asked South Korea Thursday for food staples and cement after Seoul offered medicine, instant noodles and daily necessities for its neighbour's flood victims, officials said.

The North's Red Cross chairman Jang Jae-On sent a message to his counterpart in the South requesting food, cement and equipment for restoration work, Red Cross officials said.

In reply the South repeated its offer to provide emergency aid worth five billion won ($4.7 million) in the form of quilts, clothes and other daily necessities, medicine, nutritious meals and instant noodles.

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-Joo said the South's offer did not include food staples or cement but items that children and the most vulnerable would need the most.

South Korea has been reluctant to ship rice or cement to the North for fear it could be diverted to the 1.1-million-strong military.

Seoul made the aid offer Wednesday, the first such offer since the North's deadly attack on a South Korean island last November sent relations into a deep freeze.

"We hope that Red Cross authorities of the two sides wrap up consultations expeditiously so that flood aid can be delivered at the earliest possible date," the South's Red Cross said in a statement.

The North, which even in normal times struggles to feed its people, has reported dozens of casualties, thousands homeless and large areas of farmland flooded following a storm and torrential rain this summer.

The South's offer came amid signs of an easing of high cross-border tensions. Nuclear negotiators from the two sides held rare talks last month on the sidelines of a regional security meeting in Bali.

Official media in the communist state have said a tropical storm and heavy rain in June and July left dozens either dead, injured or missing, destroyed 2,900 homes and flooded more than 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of farmland.

Floods are common in North Korea, mainly because of its lack of disaster-control infrastructure and severe deforestation of hillsides.

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