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S. Korea delays rice aid to N. Korea due to bad weather

Strong winds and high waves kept South Korea on Monday from sending its first government-financed rice aid to North Korea in more than two and a half years, officials said.

The shipment carrying 5,000 tons of rice was to depart the port city of Gunsan for the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong on the border with North Korea. Another ship managed to leave the port of Incheon to the Chinese city, carrying 3 million packs of instant noodles, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said in a release.

The ministry said that the rice aid will be sent as soon as weather clears up in the Yellow Sea. A weather agency near Gunsan said that winds as strong as 24 meters per second and waves as high as 6 meters were expected until Wednesday afternoon.

The Red Cross aid, which is aimed at helping the North cope with the aftermath of floods, marks South Korea's first government-funded provision of rice to the North since President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 on a pledge to link aid to progress in efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Seoul also plans to send a shipment of 10,000 tons of cement to the North later this week.

A total of 13.9 billion won ($12.3 million) came from government coffers to finance the flood aid.

Also on Monday, three Red Cross officials prepared to fly to the Chinese city to receive the rice and instant noodles there and transport the relief supplies by truck to the flood-hit North Korean border city of Sinuiju, according to officials from the Red Cross and the Unification Ministry.

The cargo ship carrying the noodles is expected to arrive in Dandong around Wednesday.

Rice will be delivered in 5-kilogram packages, and each package is marked with "Donation from the Republic of Korea," South Korea's official name.

In August, South Korea first offered to provide relief aid to the North after devastating floods hit the communist nation. North Korea later asked for rice, heavy construction equipment and materials. 

In recent months, relations between the two Koreas have shown signs of improvement from a low in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, as Pyongyang has been making peace overtures toward Seoul amid sanctions.

The two sides are also scheduled to hold the reunions of families living separated across the border from Oct. 30-Nov. 5. for the first time in more than a year.

Eleven officials from the Unification Ministry and the Red Cross planned to depart for the North's scenic Mount Kumgang to prepare for the reunions in which a total of 200 families will see their long-lost relatives for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the sides still technically at war.

(Yonhap News)