- diplomacy - North Korea - South Korea
North Korea returns fishing boat to South
North Korea has released a South Korean fishing vessel and seven crew members seized in August and requested equipment to tackle severe floods in return, officials in Seoul say.
AFP - North Korea Tuesday returned a South Korean fishing boat seized a month ago and requested flood aid from its neighbour, in an apparent easing of tensions after months of hostility.
The squid fishing boat and seven crew -- four South Koreans and three Chinese -- crossed the east coast sea border en route to its home port, the South's coastguard said.
The North announced Monday it would return the 41-tonne boat, seized on August 8 for allegedly trespassing in an exclusive economic zone, as a "humanitarian" gesture.
Seoul's unification ministry said separately the North had asked for rice, cement and heavy construction equipment in response to an offer by the South's Red Cross to provide flood relief aid worth 10 billion won (8.3 million dollars).
"If the South is to send flood aid, it will be better that resources and equipment needed for recovery from flood damage be sent along with rice," the ministry quoted the North's message received last Saturday as saying.
Spokesman Chun Hae-Sung said Seoul was considering the request.
Cross-border relations have been icy since Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing of one its warships in March, killing 46 people. The North denies the charge.
However, the Red Cross offered the North instant noodles, bottled water, medication and other necessities in response to serious floods in its northwest. Construction equipment was not part of the offer.
"Providing construction equipment would be an unrealistic option for the South because there is a possibility that it could later be used for military purposes," Yang Moo-Jin, of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, told Yonhap news agency.
"Cement wouldn't draw too much controversy."
Heavy rain which pounded the border zone between China and North Korea last month badly damaged crops, houses and public buildings along with roads and railways, according to official media.
The North's apparent change of attitude comes on the eve of a major conference of its ruling communist party, at which delegates are expected to endorse the youngest son of leader Kim Jong-Il as eventual successor.
Seoul in recent years supplied the North with massive annual rice and fertiliser aid. This was suspended in 2008 as relations worsened after conservative President Lee Myung-Bak took office in Seoul.