South Koreans can now stand on, roll in and run their fingers through North Korean soil. The Shinsegae department stores in Seoul and Kwangju began giving away plastic jars full of North Korean dirt yesterday to let some South Koreans own a bit of their former homeland. An estimated 1.5 million Koreans who live in the South originally came from North Korea before and during the 1950-53 Korean War. About 10 million South Koreans have relatives in the North. Kim Young-il, president of the Hyo Won Moolsan Company which brought the dirt to the South, got the idea four years ago. 'I heard about a South Korean construction company that imported sand from North Korea to use for building,' Mr Kim said. 'People found out the sand was from North Korea and took the sand from the construction site. So I thought it might be a good idea to bring some North Korean soil to give to people here who miss their birthplaces.' His idea took three years to realise, with repeated snags on both sides of the border. He received permission from the South Korean Government to import the soil in September 1995, but after the South Korean press reported that North Korea was so desperate for money it was selling dirt, the North cancelled the deal. Tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul delayed the shipment for another year, until last October, when more than 100 tonnes of earth finally left Nampo port in North Korea. It took another five months to sort out the logistics. Mr Kim said the soil was provided by the North free of charge, with all transport expenses paid by his company. 'People have told me they will have the soil scattered over their graves if they die before reunification of the two Koreas,' he said. South and North Korea yesterday sealed their landmark agreement to hold an inter-Korean Red Cross meeting in Beijing on May 3 to discuss food aid for the North's starving.