The South Korean Red Cross on Monday said it would begin delivering 15,000 tons of corn to North Korea next week to help stave off famine and seek the resumption of talks with its Northern counterpart.

Lee Byung-woong, secretary general of the South Korean Red Cross, said his organization planned to give its North Korean counterpart an estimate of how much other food aid was planned.That issue had created a deadlock in inter-Korean Red Cross talks in Beijing aimed at speeding up aid shipments. The talks, held earlier this month, were the first contact between the two Korean organizations in nearly five years.

The North demanded to know the exact amount of aid before it would discuss how the grain would be delivered.

A statement from the South Korean organization said 3,600 tons of corn would be sent to the North next week to begin the delivery by train of 15,000 tons of corn bought in China.

"It is difficult to secure train cars to load the corn, but donors are working hard to send all of them as soon as possible," an organization spokesman said.

The corn was donated by dozens of local religious and civic groups that have set a target of raising enough funds to buy another 95,000 tons of corn in the next two months.

Lee on Monday met representatives from those groups and others to ask them how much more they could contribute.

He said the South Korean Red Cross, the only window for private-sector aid to the communist North, would compile the answers and pass the information on to Pyong-yang.

"We would like to compile all commitments in a week to 10 days and inform the North," Lee told Reuters. "I would like to see the resumption of South-North Red Cross talks this month."

International aid groups have said North Korea, hit by devastating floods in 1995 and 1996, is sliding into famine, with the hungry eating bark, leaves and mushroom stems.

Last week, North Korea slammed South Korea for the deadlock at the Beijing talks, calling the failure to give the amount of aid an "eccentric and incomprehensible attitude."

Lee, the chief South Korean delegate in the Beijing talks, said his delegation could not tell Northern delegates the amount of assistance at the time as it would depend on how much South Korean citizens were willing to donate.

Soh Kyung-suk, representative of the Korean Sharing Movement, which coordinates corn supply to the North, accused the Seoul government of not fully supporting their campaign.