%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ North Korea's economy grew an estimated 3.7 percent last year, the third consecutive year of growth after a decade of contraction, South Korea's central bank said Tuesday.

The Bank of Korea attributed the continued growth to good agricultural production including an 8.2 percent estimated rise in the grain harvest.

North Korea does not release economic statistics. South Korean officials calculated their estimates on the North Korean economy with data collected from international aid groups and other sources.

The North's overall agriculture, forestry and fishing industries grew a combined 6.8 percent in 2001, the Bank of Korea said.

Its construction sector grew 7 percent, while the mining and manufacturing industries expanded 8.3 percent, the bank said.

North Korea's economy was seriously hurt a decade ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European allies, which had provided aid and barter trade. Since 1995, North Korea has depended on outside aid to feed its 22 million people. By Pyongyang's own account, more than 200,000 people died of starvation and hunger-related diseases in the late 1990s.

Thanks to foreign aid, North Korea's economy bottomed out and began growing in 1999.

North Korea's foreign trade totaled $2.27 billion last year, a fraction compared to South Korea's $291.5 billion trade volume in the same year, according to the South Korean central bank.

Also Tuesday, South Korea told North Korea that it will begin Sunday to ship 36,000 tons of fertilizer, the fourth and last batch of 200,000 tons the South has promised to donate to the communist country.

The Koreas were divided in 1945 and remain split by a sealed, heavily armed border.