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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 122 (September 2, 2010)

S. Korea's Pan-religious Delegation Travels to N. Korea with Flour Aid

PAJU, South Korea, (Yonhap) -- A joint delegation of five major religious organizations in South Korea traveled to North Korea on Aug. 27 to deliver food aid, the second civilian visit to the socialist state since Seoul imposed a travel ban in May.

   The nine-member delegation of the Catholic, Protestant, Cheondo, Buddhist and Won-Buddhist orders drove to the North from this western border town of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, accompanied by about a dozen trucks carrying 300 tons of flour.

   The 250 million won (US$209,170) worth of aid was the second inter-Korean assistance since Seoul imposed a North Korea travel ban in May in protest of the sinking of a South Korean warship two months earlier. North Korea denied involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.

   Seoul allowed the first civilian visit on Aug. 17, in which an aid organization delivered 400 million won worth of anti-malaria aid to North Korea.

   "The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is important, but the lives of the people on the Korean Peninsula take priority over any other issue," the group said in a joint statement at a ceremony attended by some 150 people, ahead of its departure. "We religious communities from the left and the right are taking a step toward opening the door for reconciliation and peace in the inter-Korean relations."

   During its one-day visit, the delegation will deliver the flour to Kaesong, just north of the inter-Korean border, which will be distributed to inhabitants in the border town and counties in North Hwanghae Province.


S. Korea's Red Cross Offers 10 Billion Won in Flood Aid to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Red Cross offered 10 billion won (US$8.4 million) worth of flood aid to North Korea on on Aug. 31, a government official said, a gesture that may help alleviate heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula.

   The aid will include medical kits, food and other emergency supplies, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters, citing the Red Cross message sent to an inter-Korean office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong earlier in the day.

   North Korea, which mobilized its air force earlier this month to save its people besieged by surging water in areas bordering China, has yet to reply to the offer, Chun said.

   The aid, if accepted, could open room for improvement in the inter-Korean ties, which have tattered since South Korea blamed North Korea in May for the sinking of its warship. Pyongyang denies involvement in the March 26 tragedy that killed 46 sailors.

   The Red Cross, which is Seoul's main channel for humanitarian cooperation with North Korea, had already proposed to North Korea that it would send flood aid, though it did not give specific figures.

   Chun said the Red Cross has determined 10 billion won to be "appropriate" in helping North Korea tackle the flood damage. In 2006, 86.3 billion won worth of flood aid was shipped from South Korea to North Korea, and 58.9 billion won the following year, according to the Unification Ministry.

   North Korea is vulnerable to natural disasters because of its lack of investment in disaster control and severe deforestation.

   According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a flash flood caused by heavy rains recently killed 14 people and prompted tens of thousands of others to evacuate in a North Korean province bordering China.

   A Seoul-based relief group, Good Friends, put the number of deaths at 32 with 38 others missing in a report seen on Aug. 31.

   The August rains that pounded the border area between China and North Korea deluged crop fields, houses and public buildings in the North's border town of Sinuiju, according to television footage released earlier in the month by Pyongyang.

   China has reportedly sent flood aid to North Korea, demonstrating its ties with its ideological ally, according to the North's official media. Days later, the leaders of the two countries held a summit in a northeastern Chinese city and agreed to expand their cooperation on political and economic issues.

   South Korea has cut off almost all trade with and assistance to North Korea since a multinational probe found Pyongyang responsible for the Cheonan sinking. North Korea has threatened war as punishment, freezing the relations that were already icy.