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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

South and North Korea trade tangerines and mushrooms in show of goodwill

Seoul is airlifting boxes of fruit in return for Pyongyang's large shipments of pine mushrooms

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. South Korea OUT
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. South Korea OUT

South Korea is airlifting thousands of boxes of tangerines to North Korea in return for the North's large shipments of pine mushrooms in September, Seoul officials said Monday.

South Korea says it will send 200 tons of tangerines from its southern resort island of Jeju to North Korea by Monday afternoon. Seoul's Defense Ministry says military planes flew to Pyongyang twice on Sunday to deliver the fruits and are doing the same on Monday.

After September's inter-Korean summit talks in Pyongyang, North Korea gave South Korea 2 tons of pine mushrooms as a goodwill gesture. Pine mushrooms are large white fungi that are considered as a healthy delicacy in both Koreas and other Asian countries. They are one of the North's most prized regional products, and the country shipped them to South Korea in 2000 and 2007 after previous summit talks.

The tangerine airlifting is a sign that the two Koreas are pushing ahead with efforts to improve ties despite a stalemated global diplomacy on North Korea's nuclear program. According to Seoul and Washington officials, North Korea recently postponed high-level talks with the United States meant to discuss achieving North Korea's nuclear disarmament and setting up a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After a provocative run of its nuclear and missile tests last year, North Korea entered talks with the United States and South Korea this year saying it's willing to deal away its advancing weapons arsenal. The North has since taken measures like dismantling its nuclear testing site and parts of its rocket-engine testing facility, but U.S. officials want the country to take more significant and irreversible steps toward denuclearisation.

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South Korea's liberal President Moon Jae-in was behind U.S.-North Korea diplomacy. Moon has met Kim three times this year.

Mr Moon's Unification Ministry said Monday that it has approved a visit by seven North Koreans to attend an academic forum in South Korea later this week. The forum is about regional issues, including Japan's wartime mobilisation of laborers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Seoul said Saturday that the two Koreas had finished withdrawing troops and firearms from some of their front-line guard posts as part of their agreements to lower military tensions between the countries. The Koreas have halted military exercises along their border and have been clearing mines from a border area to conduct their first-ever joint searches for Korean War dead.