SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea has requested help from South Korea to cope with devastating floods, a South Korean citizens' group said Wednesday, a move that could improve inter-Korean relations chilled by the North's recent missile launches.
It was the first time the communist nation has officially requested South Korean aid since flooding in mid-July spawned by heavy rains left at least 549 people dead and 295 missing.
The North asked South Korea to provide food, blankets, medical supplies and construction materials and equipment including cement and trucks to help it recover from the disaster, said Park Ji-yong, an official at a South Korean committee working for reconciliation between the Koreas.
The first South Korean private relief group sent flood relief to the North last week.
North Korea had initially said it would handle the disaster on its own and rejected aid from South Korea's Red Cross, but a North Korean official said last week the country was in urgent need of food and would accept aid from South Korea.
The South has said recently it would consider contributing to private aid missions for North Korean flood victims amid growing calls at home to help those in the North.
South Korea's Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told a meeting of civic leaders Wednesday that Seoul plans to match and contribute more than the funds that civic groups raise for the North, an aid official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of issue.
South and North Korean committee officials were also scheduled Friday to meet at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort to discuss ways to help the North, according to the South's committee.
Seoul refused last month to discuss regular humanitarian aid during high-level talks with North Korea, after the North Koreans refused to address the country's missile or nuclear programs. The North test-launched seven missiles last month, raising regional tensions and drawing U.N. Security Council sanctions.
The North has told international aid groups operating in the country that it does not want them to launch an emergency appeal on its behalf. Such aid would likely come with requirements of strict monitoring to ensure those affected are benefiting, unlike with past South Korean aid that is virtually unmonitored.
North Korea last year demanded a halt to international food aid it had been receiving since the mid-1990s, when natural disasters and mismanagement led to famine that killed an estimated 2 million people. Pyongyang claimed it did not want to develop a culture of dependency, but nonetheless still accepted aid from China and South Korea.