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New South Korean government clears civic exchange with North

South Korea is to allow a civic group to contact the North over aid programmes, the first such approval since Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January last year.

The announcement is a sign that the liberal government led by new President Moon Jae-in is trying to restart stalled civilian aid and exchange programmes as a way to improve strained ties with rival North Korea.

Mr Moon's conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, had not endorsed any civilian contacts since the North's fourth nuclear test.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said the Korean Sharing Movement would be allowed to communicate with North Korea to discuss how to deal with malaria.

"While the new government maintains a stance of firmly responding to North Korean provocations like missile launches, it's also clear that the current severance in ties between the South and North isn't ideal for stabilising the situation in the Korean peninsula," ministry spokeswoman Lee Eungene said.

The civic group said it will contact North Korea by email to try to provide insecticides, diagnostic reagent kits and mosquito repellants and nets.

Group official Kang Young-sik said his agency will try to get another government approval to visit North Korea to convey such anti-malaria items if Pyongyang accepts its overture.

The two Koreas remain divided along the world's most heavily fortified border. Their citizens are barred from exchanging phone calls, letters and emails without government permission.

Since taking office earlier this month, Mr Moon's government has said it will flexibly evaluate expanding civilian exchange with North Korea, although it will respond strongly to military threats.

Many analysts say Mr Moon will probably not push for any major rapprochement projects because the North has gone too far on its nuclear programme.

North Korea has conducted two ballistic missile test launches since Mr Moon's May 10 inauguration. It is pushing to build a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the continental US, and carried out two nuclear tests last year.

AP

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