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Mushrooms and tangerines: North and South Korea swap food gifts

12 November 2018, MVT 17:30
In this photo taken on November 11, 2018, a South Korean military transport aircraft loaded with tangerines bound for North Korea departs an airport on Jeju island. - According to Yonhap, South Korea's presidential Blue House sent a gift of 200 tons of tangerines to North Korea, in return for the North's mushrooms in September following the summit between South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the North's capital city of Pyongyang. (Photo by YONHAP / YONHAP / AFP) / - South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT NO ARCHIVES RESTRICTED TO SUBSCRIPTION USE
12 November 2018, MVT 17:30

South Korea has sent 200 tonnes of tangerines to the North in return for mushrooms Pyongyang gave earlier, Seoul said Monday, in the latest reconciliatory gesture between the neighbours.

Seoul is pushing ahead with a rapprochement with the nuclear-armed North while its security ally the US insists pressure on Pyongyang should be maintained until it denuclearises.

The tangerines -- a rarity in the North -- were being airlifted to Pyongyang from the southern island of Jeju, where they were grown, in four flights, the last one due Monday afternoon.

The fruits reciprocate two tonnes of pine mushrooms sent by the North's leader Kim Jong Un during his September summit with the South's President Moon Jae-in, Seoul's presidential office said.

The pine mushrooms -- a delicacy claimed to help prevent heart diseases and diabetes, and a key Northern export to China -- were distributed to Southern families separated from relatives in the North.

"Tangerines are a speciality of the South that ordinary North Koreans normally don't have access to," Moon's spokesman said Sunday.

His office did not elaborate on the fruits' value but local media, citing local tangerine prices, estimated it at about 400 to 500 million won ($350,000-$440,000).

Opposition politicians were critical.

"This action runs counter to the current atmosphere of the international community," Liberty Korea Party floor leader Song Hee-kyung said in a statement.

"South Koreans are sick and tired of such sentimental moves."

Moon -- a dove who advocates dialogue with the North to nudge it toward denuclearisation negotiations -- has met Kim three times so far and is seeking to hold another summit in Seoul in the near future.

But the peace push has increasingly met with scepticism at home and abroad as denuclearisation talks between Pyongyang and Washington falter.

North Korea last week asked for a planned meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim's right-hand man Kim Yong Chol to be delayed.

No clear explanation was given, but Pyongyang is demanding sanctions imposed on it over its weapons programmes are eased while the Washington insists that they should stay in place until the North denuclearises.

Seoul, South Korea | AFP