Promised food aid is unlikely to be delivered to North Korea by the end of this month, the unification ministry said Friday.
In June, South Korea announced it would provide 50,000 tons of rice to the North via the World Food Programme (WFP) to help the impoverished country address its worsening food shortages. Its original plan was to complete the delivery by September.
But the North is reportedly refusing to accept the aid, taking issue with a joint military exercise South Korea and the United States conducted last month. The ministry has been trying to confirm the North's official stance through the WFP, which operates an office in Pyongyang, but no response has been delivered.
"Given the time required to actually implement the assistance plan, such as holding consultation between the WFP and the North and securing necessary ships, it appears difficult to complete our initial plan by September," Kim Eun-han, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, told a press briefing.
Earlier, a ministry official told reporters that it takes around three weeks for the first shipment of the promised rice to be ready for delivery.
South Korea's decision to provide the food aid came amid a series of reports on the worsening food security situation in North Korea.
The WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization earlier reported the North's crop output last year hit the lowest level since 2008, adding that an estimated 10 million people, about 40 percent of the population, are in urgent need of food.
Inter-Korean relations have remained stalled with North Korea not responding to Seoul's offers for talks and cooperative projects, apparently stymied by a lack of progress in denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington. (Yonhap)