Seoul approves civilian contact with North Korea

Seoul (AFP) - South Korea on Friday authorised a civilian NGO to contact the North to discuss resuming humanitarian aid and projects, the first example of new liberal president Moon Jae-In's pursuit of dialogue with Pyongyang.

The centre-left president favours engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table, rather than the hardline stance taken by the conservative government of his ousted precedessor Park Geun-Hye.

Unauthorised contacts with North Koreans or visits to the North are punishable by jail terms in the South.

But the Unification Ministry gave the green light to a request by the Korean Sharing Movement.

"The government's stance is that it should remain flexible in handling civilian exchanges such as humanitarian aid as long as they don't compromise the international sanctions regime against the North," ministry spokeswoman Lee Eugene told reporters.

The decision comes even as tensions remain high after North Korea test-fired this month its longest-range ballistic missile yet.

The two Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended only with a ceasefire instead of a peace treaty.

The North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile tests since the beginning of last year in its quest to build a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental United States.

The ministry's Lee stressed that Seoul will remain firm in addressing the North's nuclear and missile threats.

The Korean Sharing Movement seeks to supply malaria tablets for North Koreans living near their shared border, which would also help prevent the mosquito-borne disease spreading to the South, she added.

Moon, who advocates dialogue with Pyongyang unlike his two conservative predecessors, said in his inauguration speech this month that he was willing to visit Pyongyang "in the right circumstances" to defuse tension.

But he slammed a subsequent missile launch as a "reckless provocation".