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2009/11/19 11:24 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 81 (November 19, 2009)


First H1N1 Infection Reported at Joint Industrial Park in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean man working at a North Korean industrial park has been confirmed to have been infected with the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, the first such case to be detected north of the border, the Unification Ministry said on Nov. 16.

   The worker, 32, who authorities would only identify by his family name Seo, was urgently transferred to South Korea on Nov. 14 after showing a high fever at the joint park in the North's border town of Kaesong, said ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung. He tested positive for the H1N1 virus later in the day. "He was brought here because there is no facility at the Kaesong park to test for the new flu," Chun said, adding the man has now recovered.

   Seo's case raised concerns of a possible outbreak among North Korean workers at the factory complex, where about 40,000 North Koreans work for some 110 South Korean businesses. Chun said Seo spent most hours working in his company office at Kaesong and had little contact with local workers at the factory.

   Three other South Korean workers who were in frequent contact with Seo also returned to the South for checkups. "All of them tested negative," the spokesman said.

   In an Oct. 30 report, North Korea said no Influenza A cases have been reported in the country, a claim that remains highly dubious amid the rapid spread of the pandemic. A total of 82 South Koreans have died of the disease as of Nov. 18.

   Any contact with the H1N1 virus could be particularly dangerous to people in North Korea, many of whom are undernourished and may have impaired immune systems, North Korea watchers say.

   After its first flu-related death in the country in August, South Korea installed heat detection cameras at transit offices along the inter-Korean border to prevent the possible transfer of the virus to the North. It is mandatory for the hundreds of South Koreans who commute to the joint park on a daily basis to have their body temperatures checked.

   No unusual signs were detected with Seo when he traveled to Kaesong on Nov. 9 for a two-week stay. Seoul officials were still unsure how he became infected.

   When severe acute respiratory syndrome, also known as SARS, broke out in South Korea in 2003, North Korea refused to admit South Korean tourists, closing down tours to its scenic Mt. Kumgang for about two months.

   The South Korean government, meanwhile, said it sent flu check-up kits to the joint factory park on Nov. 16 to help examine suspected patients more quickly.

   "Dozens of easy check-up kits were sent to the Kaesong complex to help deal with suspected cases more speedily," a government official said. "The kit can detect infections with 80-90 percent accuracy."

   South Korea sent 30 doses of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu for its citizens stationed at the Kaesong park last week.

   In May, the World Health Organization supplied an emergency stockpile of 35,000 Tamiflu tablets each to North Korea and about 70 other developing countries.


Inter-Korean Trade Grows for 2nd Straight Month in October

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Trade between South and North Korea grew for the second consecutive month in October amid improving global economic conditions and eased cross-border tensions, customs data showed Nov. 17.

   According to the data provided by the Korea Customs Service, inter-Korean trade totaled US$172.6 million last month, up 5.9 percent from the same month a year ago.

   Shipments to the North totaled $71.9 million in October, while those from the communist country came to a monthly record $100.7 million, the data showed.

   The figures marked the second straight month of expansion since September when trade turned positive after declining for the previous 12 months.

   The increase is attributed to rebounding global economic conditions and relatively improved cross-border relations including reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

   Experts, however, predict that trade could suffer down the road due to heightened tensions in the wake of this month's naval skirmish along the disputed western sea border between the two countries.


President Lee Instructs Cabinet to Study Forestation of N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak on Nov. 17 instructed his Cabinet to study the forestation of North Korea and its impact on the entire Korean Peninsula, according to sources at the presidential office.

   Lee made the instruction while presiding over a Cabinet meeting which finalized the South Korean government's plan to cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below expected levels in 2020, or a 4 percent reduction from 2005 levels.

   Referring to South Korean steelmaker POSCO's forestation project in Uruguay, Lee was quoted by the sources as saying, "POSCO is planting trees in South America. But might North Korea be a better place (for the project)? It is closer and has few trees."

   The president ordered his Cabinet to analyze North Korea's current forest conditions, as well as study the forestation of the North and its effects on the Korean Peninsula, said the sources.

   "Private organizations and (South Korea's) provincial governments have sporadically engaged in forestation projects in North Korea. From the perspective of a low-emission, green growth strategy, the (South Korean) government should map out systematic and comprehensive plans for North Korea's forestation," Lee was also quoted as saying.

   Since his inauguration in February last year, Lee has occasionally instructed his Cabinet to begin discussions on supporting the forestation of North Korea in preparation for national unification.

   In this regard, a presidential aide said that the North Korean forestation project is a long-term policy task for the Lee government. "The government will carefully and slowly push ahead with the North Korean forestation project after watching the outcome of a feasibility study and the progress in the North's denuclearization," said the aide.