SEOUL South Korea sent fiber-optic cables and other equipment to North Korea on Wednesday to help its communist neighbour modernize military hot lines with the South -- the latest sign of improving relations.

The shipment of communication equipment and materials worth 850 million won ($712,000) comes days after the South offered to send the North 10,000 tons of corn in its first direct food aid to the impoverished nation in nearly two years.

Relations between the two Koreas have shown signs of improvement in recent months, as Pyongyang significantly softened its hard-line stance towards Seoul after the U.N. imposed sanctions for its nuclear test in May.

Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said the South sent the first of four batches of communication aid on Wednesday. The entire shipment would be completed early next month, he said.

The hot lines serve as a key mode of direct communication between military officials from the two Koreas, which technically remain locked in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty.

The North cut off six of nine hot lines in May 2008, citing technical problems, amid high tensions between the sides.

The lines were restored in September, and Pyongyang recently asked Seoul to help modernize the lines.

For a decade, South Korea was one of the biggest donors to the North, which has faced chronic food shortages since flooding and mismanagement destroyed its economy in the mid-1990s.

But aid stopped since the South’s conservative President Lee Myung—bak took office early last year with a pledge to get tough on the North. Mr. Lee has linked aid to Pyongyang’s progress in abandoning its nuclear programmes.

Officials have said this week’s food aid offer is purely humanitarian and does not mean the South is resuming full-scale assistance to the North.

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