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2008/07/03 10:52 KST


S. Korea Ships Anti-malaria Supplies to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has shipped US$1.22 million worth of anti-malaria supplies to North Korea to help prevent the spread of the disease over the summer months, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said on June 26.

   It said a ship carrying the supplies left Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, earlier in the day and reached Nampho, North Korea's main sea port on the Yellow Sea, the same day.

   KCDC said medicine for 50,000 people, 100,000 mosquito nets, insecticides and test kits to check for infection have been sent. "The supplies are designed to help North Korea combat the spread of the malaria while at the same time reducing the likelihood of malaria-carrying mosquitos from reaching South Korea," a health official said. He said it is a win-win deal that has been continuing since 2001.

   The disease control agency under the health ministry, meanwhile, said anti-malaria supplies seem to be having a positive effect because the communist country has reported a decreasing number of malaria patients in recent years.

   In 2000, the number of malaria patients in the North may have reached 200,000, but the number fell to 10,000 in 2005 and 7,400 in 2007.


N. Korea Limits Cross-border Passage of People, Products from Kaesong

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has been partially limiting the passage of South Korean people and materials from the Kaesong joint industrial complex into the South, citing problems with cross-border communication lines, government sources here said on June 27.

   The restriction, which was put in place on June 24, bars materials and people in the Kaesong complex from crossing the heavily armed border into South Korea every morning, the sources said.

   "North Korea has only been allowing South Koreans to carry materials or return to the South in afternoons since June 23, saying it is difficult to allow normal passage because communications lines necessary to manage cross-border passage are too old," one of the sources said.

   However, entry of people and raw materials into Kaesong is possible as usual, according to officials at the Unification Ministry. The ministry also posted a notice on its Web site to announce the change.

   The malfunctioning communications lines have also affected tourism programs, slowing down immigration procedures for South Korean travellers to Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang since about 10 days ago, according to other sources.

   The measure came two days after the North said the operation of the Kaesong complex and the tour of the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang are in jeopardy because of the new South Korean government.

   In a statement carried by the North's official news agency, an unnamed spokesman of the North Korean delegation to inter-Korean military talks claimed that Seoul is refusing to implement last year's summit agreement to facilitate "communication, passage and customs" for the joint ventures between the two Koreas.

   The Kaesong complex and the Mt. Kumgang program are said to be among the most tangible fruits of South Korea's "sunshine policy" of engaging its communist neighbor in the past decade.

   The conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in late February, appears reluctant to implement the summit accord signed by his liberal predecessor Roh Moo-hyun. Lee is trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor and pursuing a tougher policy toward the North.

   "Communications problems do exist," a government official said, requesting anonymity. "The government is pushing to provide the North with an optical cable by the middle of July to address the problem."


S. Korea's Ruling Party Pushing for Inter-Korean Economic Zone in Paju

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) of South Korea plans to introduce legislation on creating an inter-Korean economic zone just south of the border with North Korea, a senior party official said on June 29.

   Rep. Yim Tae-hee, the GNP's chief policy coordinator, said the industrial complex to be set up in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, can be connected later to the inter-Korean economic zone in Kaesong, a North Korean border town.

   "It is realistically difficult to demand across-the-board reform and market opening by the North," Yim told Yonhap News Agency.

   As a first step towards economic reform in the North, it is necessary to create such an industrial town where North Koreans can work and to expand it into a broader special economic zone by linking it with the Kaesong complex, he added. Yim said his party will soon propose a related bill.

   The conservative party's move comes as progress is slowly being made in efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Last week the North presented a declaration of its nuclear holdings and demolished the cooling tower at its main nuclear site in Yongbyon.

   Domestic and foreign firms investing in the envisioned economic zone will be given various benefits such as tax breaks and exemption of tariffs, Yim said.

   Currently, more than 20,000 North Korean workers are employed at the Kaesong industrial zone, which is said to be a fruit of previous liberal governments' "sunshine policy" of engaging the communist neighbor.


Pyongyang Refuses Seoul's Corn Aid Offer

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In an apparent sign of Pyongyang's prolonged tension with Seoul, North Korea has refused the South's proposal to send it 50,000 tons of corn as emergency food aid, the Unification Ministry said on June 30.

   In May, Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong proposed through Red Cross channels that inter-Korean dialogue be held to discuss providing the same amount of corn in food aid, but there was no reply.

   Recently, the South asked for the North's position on Seoul's offer of corn aid through the Red Cross channel in the truce village of Panmunjom, but a working-level North Korean official said they would not accept it, ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.

   However, South Korean officials said they didn't consider it as the North's official position, "We will provide 50,000 tons of corn if North Korea gives details as to when, where and how it wants to receive the aid," the spokesman told reporters. "We're waiting for a positive response from the North."

   If the North continues to keep silent on the offer, the government may consider sending aid through the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) after reviewing the upcoming result of the organization's assessment of the food situation in the communist state, the spokesman said.

   South Korea sent about 400,000 tons of rice aid each year to the impoverished country over nearly a decade during the tenure of two liberal governments. Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated since South Korea's new conservative pro-U.S. government took office in February. Seoul has maintained that it would only consider giving aid if Pyongyang requests it.

   North Korea has spurned President Lee Myung-bak's earlier proposal for the countries to establish permanent liaison offices in each other's capitals, heaping scorn on Lee and his government.

   Seoul later softened its position, suggesting it can consider sending aid if food shortages in the North get serious.

   Seoul's latest proposal shows the government has moved a step forward from its earlier stance, under pressure from aid groups and political parties "to save North Koreans" from possibly dying en masse of starvation.

   The proposal came on the same day that the WFP announced the first shipment of 500,000 tons of aid, which the United States promised to send in the coming year through the WFP and non-governmental organizations, had arrived in the North Korean port of Nampho.

   The 50,000 tons of corn aid were promised by previous President Roh Moo-hyun but the pledge was left unfulfilled due to soaring world corn prices and other reasons.

   Aid groups say North Korea may see tens of thousands of people dying of starvation in two months if there is no emergency foreign aid. The Seoul government estimates that the North needs at least 5.42 million tons of cereals a year, but is 1.24 million tons short this year.