Sunday, May 22, 2005

North Korean Cargo Ships To Anchor in South Korea After 21 Years

A North Korean cargo ship arrived in South Korea on Sunday to pick up fertilizer for the impoverished country - the first such vessel from the isolated communist nation to dock here in 21 years. The ship traveled to the southeastern port of Ulsan after South Korea last week agreed to give 200,000 tons of fertilizer to the North in a deal reached after rare bilateral talks. Those talks failed to persuade the North to return to six-nation negotiations on its nuclear program but did lead to a deal for the rivals to meet again next month. The ship named "Mount Paektu" - the name of the highest peak in North Korea - crossed the inter-Korean maritime border with about 44 North Korean crew members. It was expected to leave for North Korea on Wednesday, according to South Korea's news agency. "I have led some 10,000 ships in the past 30 years, but this is the first time I led a North Korean ship so I was very nervous," Chang Moon-geun, a South Korean port official told said. "But there was no particular difficulty." A second ship was to arrive at Kunsan Port on the southwestern coast later Sunday and a third ship was to travel to Yeosu Port in the south early Monday. North Korean cargo ships last came to South Korea in 1984 to deliver cement, rice and other aid after massive flooding from a typhoon. South Korean officials have said the shipment of the fertilizer will be made both through land and sea routes to get the aid delivered to the communist North by June. A total of 10 North Korean ships will be sent to deliver some 82,600 tons of fertilizer. South Korea began shipping the fertilizer Saturday when trucks crossed the heavily militarized border dividing the peninsula. Following last week's talks, the first face-to-face discussions between the two countries in 10 months, South Korea said it would provide North Korea with the fertilizer out of "humanitarian and brotherly love." Since 1995, North Korea has depended on outside help to feed its 22 million people. South Korea has provided the poverty-stricken North with about 330,000 tons of fertilizer annually since 1999. The two Koreas have been divided since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

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