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2009/12/24 10:54 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 86 (December 24, 2009)

  
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Inter-Korean Exchanges Decline Sharply in 2009

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Cross-border exchanges between the two Koreas decreased by some 38 percent this year as North Korea ratcheted up tension with a long-range missile launch and second nuclear test, Seoul's Unification Ministry said Dec. 18.

   The number of people crossing the border between the two Koreas fell to 109,271 as of November this year from 174,984 during the same period in 2008, according to the ministry's report.

   Inter-Korean trade volume also shrank by nearly 14 percent to US$1.46 billion in the January-November period from $1.69 billion a year ago, the report added.

   "We believe the decrease is largely due to North Korea's cross-border traffic restrictions enforced from December last year to August and the (South Korean) government's control of cross-border trips following the North's nuclear and missile tests," the ministry said in a press release. "The overall economic downturn also played a role in the trade decrease."

   North Korea, protesting Seoul's tougher stance toward it since the launch of the Lee Myung-bak administration, imposed restrictions on border crossings by South Koreans on Dec. 1 last year.
The move further eroded the atmosphere of reconciliation that followed the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. The traffic restrictions, which caused heavy losses for South Korean companies operating in a joint-industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong, were lifted eight months later.

  
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S. Korea Sends Flu Medication Aid to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea sent H1N1 flu medication for 500,000 people to North Korea on Dec. 18 in the first state-level humanitarian assistance to its impoverished neighbor in nearly two years.

   North Korea acknowledged Dec. 9 that it has confirmed nine cases of the Influenza A virus infection, but it has yet to report any flu-related deaths.

   The shipment of Tamiflu and Relenza worth US$15 million was transported over the military demarcation line to the North's border town of Kaesong in the morning. North Korea thanked South Korea for the aid, said Kim Young-il, a Unification Ministry official who traveled with refrigerator trucks carrying the drugs.

   "North Korea expressed deep gratitude to South Korea over its prompt provision of the medications," Kim told reporters after returning from the trip.

   North Korean officials also said they will distribute the medications through city or province authorities, Kim noted. But the Seoul official added that he had no new information about the scope of the flu infection in the North.

   According to the World Health Organization, the North's Health Ministry reported that the nine patients -- all schoolchildren aged between 11 and 14 -- have recovered and no additional cases have been reported.

   But Seoul doubts the credibility of the report. "Judging from various bits of intelligence, the new flu appears to be spreading in North Korea," a senior ministry official said at a background briefing,
Still, the senior official and others in the ministry said Seoul wanted to take preemptive measures for the winter, during which the spread of the H1N1 flu virus may speed up. The amount of medicine sent is enough for each North Korean patient to take for five days.

   About 1 billion won (US$846,740) worth of hand sanitizer will be also delivered as soon as the government acquires the shipment from manufacturers, likely in mid-January.

   The Tamiflu aid marks the first humanitarian assistance the South Korean government has provided to North Korea since conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul early last year. Lee cut off the unconditional aid that his liberal predecessors had shipped to the North over the past decade, conditioning inter-Korean exchanges on progress in the North's denuclearization.

   The inter-Korean aid comes amid a flurry of diplomacy between North Korea and the United States on ways to resume a multilateral negotiating forum on ending the North's nuclear program.

  
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S. Korea to Resume Aid for N. Korean Children

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to resume cash support for North Korean infant and child healthcare through U.N. agencies early next year, officials said Dec. 21.

   South Korea halted such assistance earlier this year shortly after the North's nuclear test in May.

   The policy follows some US$15 million in medication sent to the North last week to help prevent an epidemic of the H1N1 flu virus there. The flu aid marked Seoul's first government-to-government humanitarian assistance since President Lee Myung-bak took power in early 2008.

   "Our government is considering providing assistance to some U.N. agencies that operate North Korea assistance programs for infants and children," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said at a press briefing.

   Chun said the scope of the aid and other details are "still under consultation," but ministry sources expect millions of dollars will be pulled out of the ministry's inter-Korean cooperation fund for the assistance. Beneficiaries are likely to be the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization, both of which operate health care programs for those who are nutritionally at risk in North Korea, they said.

   The ministry has provided support to UNICEF, the WHO and other international agencies with programs for North Korea since the mid-1990s, including $15.74 million provided in 2008. But such aid was put on hold for 2009 after North Korea fired a long-range rocket and conducted a nuclear test in the spring.

   "With regard to humanitarian assistance to North Korea, the government's position is that purely humanitarian assistance should be continued," Chun said.
South Korea provided Tamiflu and other anti-viral medications for 500,000 people to North Korea on Dec. 18, following North Korea's admission of a flu outbreak on Dec. 9.

   Separately, the unification ministry plans to additionally spend 5 billion won ($4.32 million) to enhance fire equipment at a joint industrial complex in North Korea. The project will involve renovating a fire station and increasing the number of fire trucks to eight from five at the factory park in the North's border town of Kaesong that hosts 106 South Korean small-size firms.

   "We think its ability to deal with incidents of fire is not sufficient," Chun said, noting that many factories there produce clothing.

  
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Seven North Korean Drifters Sent Back Home

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Seven North Korean fishermen, who drifted south of the Yellow Sea border earlier this week but expressed their desire to return home, were all sent back to the North on Dec. 23, officials here said.

   The North Koreans were spotted by the South Korean Coast Guard off the port of Incheon on Dec. 21 and towed to port on their 1.5-ton fishing boat. They told authorities they lost control of their boat due to high waves and did not intend to defect to the South, according to the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

   The fishermen were returned to North Korea through the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom at 11 a.m., ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said. The ministry sent a message to the North a day earlier to arrange their repatriation and North Korea responded they would take them on Dec. 23.

   The North Koreans were all male and belonged to the same workplace on the country's west coast, Lee added.

   A North Korean soldier who was found drifting on a small boat in the Yellow Sea late last month was repatriated after he expressed his desire to return home.

   In a separate incident in September, a group of 11 North Koreans, consisting of two family units, defected to South Korea via the East Sea.

  (END)