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N Korea opens border for rice aid
Eighty South Korean trucks loaded with rice have rumbled into North Korea in a symbol of reconciliation between the two divided nations.

A convoy of 40 orange-coloured 25-tonne trucks pulled across the mine-strewn no-man's-land that has separated the two countries for more than 50 years.

A separate convoy of 40 trucks crossed into North Korea with another rice shipment at the eastern end of the Demilitarised Zone, officials said.

"Pass," shouted two South Korean military policemen as they opened an iron-grid gate in a barbed wire-fence for the convoy to enter the four-kilometre buffer zone in place since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The 80 trucks were to return home after unloading their cargo at Kaesong City in the west and at the eastern port of Kosong. Both Kaesong and Kosong are about an hour's ride from the DMZ.

"I have never felt so proud of my job," said trucker O Bu-Kyun as he led the convoy on the drive from Dorasan, the northernmost railway station on the western border.

The shipment of 2,000 tonnes is the first consignment of 400,000 tonnes of rice aid South Korea promised to deliver this year to the impoverished communist state at inter-Korean high-level talks in June.

South Korean officials said it would take 13 weeks to complete the delivery of 100,000 tonnes of rice by road. The remaining 300,000 tonnes will be purchased and delivered by ship directly to the North.

Seoul gave the North 300,000 tonnes of food aid in 2001 and 400,000 tonnes each in 2002 and 2003.

"Take pride in your efforts to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. This rice is not merely food aid but represents our warmhearted feelings toward our North Korean brothers," Park Heung-Ryol, a Unification Ministry director, told the truck drivers.

It marked the first delivery of South Korean rice aid by land. All past South Korean food aid has been sent to North Korea by ship.

According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation, North Korea needs at least 5.1 million tonnes of food every year to feed its 23.2 million population and livestock. It produces an estimated four million tonnes.
MGR Archive 21.7.2004
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