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2009/12/10 11:42 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 84 (December 10, 2009)

  
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

President Lee Orders Measures to Help N. Korea Deal with H1N1

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ordered his government Dec. 8 to help North Korea deal with a possible outbreak of Influenza A, saying the disease could do serious damage throughout the impoverished state.

   "There are reports of an outbreak of the new flu in North Korea, so find ways to help North Korea after confirming the reports," the president was quoted as saying in a Cabinet meeting by his office, Cheong Wa Dae.

   Lee, however, insisted that any assistance to the North to deal with the H1N1 virus must be strictly humanitarian and unconditional, his spokesman Park Sun-kyoo said. "Such assistance must be provided swiftly, as the disease could quickly spread in North Korea where conditions are not so good," Lee was quoted as saying.

   Under the presidential instruction, South Korea has offered to help North Korea in its fight against a spread of the Influenza A virus and is now awaiting an answer from the North, an official at Cheong Wa Dae said Dec. 9. "We relayed the message to North Korea yesterday (Dec. 8)," the official told Yonhap News Agency, asking not to be identified.

   Pyongyang confirmed an outbreak of the virus in the country Dec. 9 in a report carried by its Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The KCNA report said nine people have contracted the H1N1 virus.

   The Cheong Wa Dae official noted that the North Korean report could hint at Pyongyang's willingness to accept Seoul's offer. "North Korea has to react to our offer and say 'Okay, let's talk about it,' but we believe it (the KCNA report) is a positive sign," the official said.

   South Korean aid to North Korea has been brought to a virtual standstill since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak government early last year. North Korea has also often refused to accept any assistance. South Korea's unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, was soon expected to send an official message offering aid to the North.

   Good Friends, a Seoul-based aid group, said in its bulletin Dec. 7 that about a dozen people have died from the disease there. Schools started winter vacation a month early on Dec. 4 due to the rapid spread of disease, the aid group said, citing sources inside North Korea.

   During previous pandemics such as an avian flu outbreak in 2005, the isolated country promptly called for international help.

   The aid offer by Seoul coincides with a trip to Pyongyang by Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea. He aims to bring the North back to the six-nation negotiations over its nuclear program.

   But it remains to be seen whether Pyongyang will accept the latest aid proposal. Seoul's offer of 10,000 tons of corn aid in October is still up in the air as the North has yet to respond, apparently discomforted by the small scale of assistance.

  (END)