SEOUL - North Korea agreed Friday to receive an unspecified amount of wheat and medicine in aid from South Korean private groups despite high cross-border tension, activists said.

The agreement came at talks between South Korean activists and North Korean officials in the North's Kaesong city just across the border, the first such contact since the North's late leader Kim Jong-Il died last December.

"We agreed to send aid soon after we completed preparations," said Lee Yun-Sang, head of a four-member South Korean delegation that visited Kaesong.

The shipment of aid from an array of non-governmental organisations could be made next week if possible, she said, adding the North's south and north Hwanghae provinces were hit hard by floods. The impoverished North is grappling with the after-effects of floods in June and July that killed 169 people, left about 400 missing, and made more than 212,000 people homeless, according to official figures from Pyongyang. The North's Council for National Reconciliation sent a message last week to the KNCC, accepting the group's offer of discussions on flood aid despite years of frosty official relations between Pyongyang and Seoul.

Lee from the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation (KNCC) said the meeting in Kaesong did not cover aid from the South Korean government. Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik told parliament on Friday that Seoul could provide aid to the North "if the situation requires". "We can propose the shipment of aid even without a request from North Korea if its flood damage is considered to be severe," he said.

The ministry gave its blessing to the trip by private groups. All cross-border contacts require government permission by law.

The rare cross-border trip came as the South Korean and US militaries conduct a major annual joint exercise, which North Korea has denounced as a rehearsal for an invasion.