South Korea has informed North Korea that it will provide 150,000 tons of free fertilizer to the impoverished communist country to help it enhance its agricultural productivity, the Unification Ministry said Wednesday.
Seoul's decision came three weeks after the North requested 450,000 tons of fertilizer from South Korea, which has so far provided 1.9 million tons to North Korea since 1998.
The ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said decision was made "on humanitarian grounds to ease food shortages of North Koreans by increasing agricultural productivity."
South Korea said it plans to send the fertilizer by using both land and sea routes, beginning next week. It was unclear whether the South planned to send more fertilizer at a future date.
Also on Wednesday, Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said he did not want to link humanitarian aid to the issue of South Korean prisoners of war and civilian abductees still believed held in the North, saying the aid can have positive influence on overall inter-Korean ties.
South Korea estimates 542 soldiers from the 1950-53 Korean war are still alive in the North, as well as 486 South Korean civilians, mostly fishermen whose boats have been seized, according to South Korea's Red Cross.
North Korea has relied on outside handouts to feed its 23 million people since the mid-1990s, when natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy. Famine is believed to have killed as many as 2 million people, reports the AP.
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