Russia sends 50,000 tonnes of wheat to North Korea: ministry

19th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia said Friday it was sending up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat to North Korea amid fears of a hunger crisis as reports said its leader may arrive in Russia aboard his special train this weekend.

"In accordance with the request of the North Korean government, Russia has decided to send the population of the country experiencing an acute shortage of food supplies humanitarian aid in the amount of up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat," the Russian foreign ministry said.

The first shipment of wheat arrived in the country earlier Friday, the foreign ministry said, adding Russia planned to ship the rest of the supplies next month.

"We consider this humanitarian operation a contribution to strengthening traditional good-neighborly ties between our countries' people," it said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon last week called on the world community to send aid to North Korea where hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of dying amid growing fears of a worsening hunger crisis. The situation in the isolated country has become so dire that an increasing number of North Koreans have resorted to eating grass, the European Commission has said.

The Russian announcement of the aid comes after Seoul-based cable news network YTN said North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, known to dislike air travel due to security concerns, may cross the border between Russia and North Korea on Saturday aboard his special train.

Yonhap news agency said that South Korean intelligence officials told a parliamentary committee that Kim's trip to Russia was probably imminent. The National Intelligence Service declined to confirm the report, and the Kremlin also declined comment.

Kim last visited Russia in 2002, when he met then-president Vladimir Putin in Russia's Far Eastern region of Vladivostok.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a message to Kim on Monday calling for cooperation in the building of a gas pipeline, railways and power lines across the heavily fortified border with South Korea.

The message, published by Pyongyang's state media, coincided with the anniversary of the end of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

Kim was planning to meet with Medvedev in Russia's Far East earlier this summer but cancelled those plans over media leaks that he would be coming to Russia, a Kremlin source was quoted as saying at the time.

Medvedev travelled to the Pacific city of Vladivostok in late June to chair a conference on preparations for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2012.

Kim never arrived and in an possible sign of a sudden change of plans, reporters travelling with Medvedev returned to Moscow earlier than planned.

© 2011 AFP

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