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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 100 (April 1, 2010)

N. Korea Says It Completed Distributing Anti-flu Aid Sent from S. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has informed South Korea it completed nationwide distribution of anti-flu sanitizer received from Seoul last month, an official here said March 25.

   South Korea delivered 200,000 liters of hand sanitizer to North Korea on Feb. 23 to help the impoverished communist neighbor fight the spread of type-A influenza.

   The sanitizer worth 1 billion won (about US$860,000) were sent after Seoul offered Tamiflu in December in the first humanitarian aid to Pyongyang since President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008.

   South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said the North's Red Cross sent a message on March 24 saying that the sanitizer was distributed to nine provinces and four cities.

   About 30,000 liters -- the largest portion distributed -- went to Pyongyang, the capital, while the border city of Kaesong received the smallest amount, 6,000 liters, he said.

   The two countries run a joint industrial complex in Kaesong, which is situated near the west coast.

   North Korea, which has a population of 24 million, said it has confirmed cases of influenza A but no deaths related to the disease have been reported.

   At least 16,800 people have died from the virus around the world, according to last week's update on the Web site of the World Health Organization.


S. Korea Calls for Immediate Identification of Nationals Held in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has called on North Korea to immediately identify four of its citizens the communist country said last month it was holding for illegally entering the nation.

   "A month has passed since the North said it was investigating them," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a briefing on March 26. "We strongly urge the North to tell us the facts regarding the current situation as quickly as possible."

   North Korea promised during talks with South Korea early this month that it would identify the four South Koreans when its probe ends. The North announced on Feb. 26 the South Koreans crossed onto its soil but gave no further details.

   The South's appeal came days after the North identified the American it said in late January it was detaining for illegally trespassing into the country.

   Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a former English teacher in South Korea from Boston, Massachusetts, crossed into North Korea through the border with China on Jan. 25. The North said Gomes will stand trial for illegal entry.

   In December, a Korean-American missionary named Robert Park went into the North to publicize human rights abuses in the country, but was released early last month.

   Separately, two American journalists were released in August last year, months after they accidentally entered the North while reporting on North Korean defectors along the border with China.

   Their release came after former U.S. President Bill Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, offering a chance for a thaw in relations between the countries amid a nuclear deadlock.


N. Korea Ends Final Inspection of S. Korean Assets at Mountain Kumgang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea wrapped up its survey of South Korean assets at its eastern mountain resort on March 31, a day before it would announce "extraordinary measures" it threatened unless Seoul resumes cross-border tours.

   Since March 25, North Korea had inspected a series of South Korean-run facilities, including hotels, a golf course and shops at its Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast, mounting pressure on Seoul to lift its suspension of tours to the border area.

   The tours were suspended in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier guarding a restricted zone. Seoul demands a set of steps to account for the death and guarantee security for tourists while Pyongyang says all necessary actions have been taken and warned of unspecified extraordinary measures if Seoul does not agree to normalize tours by Thursday.

   A South Korean businessman running a karaoke at a hotel in the resort entered the North on March 31, while ten businessmen returned after attending the inspection of their assets earlier this week, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

   Thirty-seven South Korean companies have attended the survey supervised by North Korean authorities such as military officials, according to the ministry.

   North Korea says it may seek a new business partner if the South continues to refuse to resume the tours, possibly indicating partnership with Chinese tour operators.

   On March 31, South Korea warned the North that none of its cooperation projects with the communist state would proceed "normally" if Pyongyang carries out its threat and infringes upon southern properties at its eastern mountain resort.

   The warning came as a Pyongyang-imposed deadline neared for South Korea to agree to resume cross-border tours to the mountain by April 1 or else face "extraordinary measures." The North did not elaborate on what those measures would be, but it earlier threatened to seize South Korean assets at the resort.

   "If the property rights of our companies are not protected, not a single inter-Korean cooperation project can proceed normally," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in an unscheduled briefing. "All responsibilities for it will lie with North Korea." Chun declined to specify possible South Korean actions.

   Nearly two million South Koreans visited the resort during the past decade until the suspension in July 2008. A similar joint tour project to the city of Kaesong on the west coast has also been halted since late 2008, cutting off a legitimate source of hard currency for the sanctions-hit North.

   The survey came as South Korean military officials were working to shed light on the cause of an explosion that sank a South Korean naval ship on March 26 near the tense western sea border with North Korea. Initial speculation of North Korean involvement has tapered off although not been entirely dismissed.