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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 227 (Sept. 13, 2012)

N. Korea Refuses Seoul's Flood Aid Offer, Saying, 'We Don't Need Such Aid'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In a reversal of its previous position, North Korea refused to accept South Korea's flood relief aid on Sept. 12 as the two sides failed to nail down what types of aid items should be given.

   A Seoul official said the North cabled a notification earlier in the day that reads, "We do not need such aid."

   The North changed its position only two days after expressing its intention to accept Seoul's proposal for assistance which was initially made on Sept. 3.

   A week later on Sept. 10, Pyongyang said through its Red Cross that it was ready to accept flood aid from the South.

   South Korea has offered aid to the North to help it recover from recent floods, which the socialist country said left 176 people dead and 220,000 homeless.

   The floods also submerged or washed away 1,140 square kilometers of farmland, raising concerns about chronic food shortages in a country that has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s.

   Responding to Pyongyang's acceptance, Seoul proposed the following day that it would provide 10,000 tons of flour, 3 million packs of instant noodles and medicine all worth a total of 10 billion won (US$8.88 million). The government had also said it was open to negotiations over what would be sent, according to the official.

   Pyongyang's refusal is an indication that the flood-stricken country do not want the types and quantity of the proposed items, the official said.

   North Korea is believed to want rice, cement and heavy equipment for reconstruction work, which Seoul worries that the regime may divert for military and other unintended uses.

   The official also said South Korea regrets the refusal, but will continue to keep the window open for further negotiations with the North regarding flood relief aid.

   He, however, said time may be needed before the South again offers to send aid to victims of the recent flooding.

   The official made clear that despite the rejection, humanitarian aid from nongovernmental groups will still be allowed to reach the North and such aid has never been affected by Seoul's inter-Korean cooperation ban that went into effect following the sinking of a South Korean warship in March 2010.

   The North has refused to communicate with the South after the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration took a hard-line policy toward the socialist nation.

   Last year, Pyongyang spurned an offer of emergency supplies and demanded rice and cement instead. South Korea refused, citing suspicions they would be diverted to the military.

   This time, North Korea stressed, however, that the situation that "happened last year should not be repeated," in an apparent reference to Seoul's cancellation of the offered aid last year because of differences over what items to send.

   Last year, South Korea rejected the North's request for rice and cement and said it would deliver baby food, biscuits and instant noodles amounting to some US$5.4 million to the North. Pyongyang refused the offer.

   In 2010, South Korea sent 5,000 tons of rice, 3 million packs of instant noodles and 3,000 tons of cement to North Korea after devastating floods inundated thousands of houses and a vast tract of farmland near the border with China.

   North Korea ratcheted up verbal threats against South Korea over an alleged defamation of its leadership earlier this year. The North has also vowed not to deal with South Korea and called South Korean President Lee Myung-bak a "traitor" for having aggravated inter-Korean ties.

   Sources predicted that with five months remaining in Lee's administration, there may be no further chance to repair relations.


Inter-Korean Youth Exchange Center to Be Built near Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will soon begin construction of its first-ever center for exchanges with North Korea's youth near the inter-Korean border, a provincial government said on Sept. 9.

   The Gyeonggi provincial government approved the development project submitted by Yeoncheon, a district just south of the heavily fortified border, according to officials from the provincial government.

   Construction of the new youth center will begin next month for completion by 2014.

   The 52 billion-won (US$46 million) center will be able to house up to 500 people at the same time with camping sites, family housing units and a sports facility.

   It will also be used for other inter-Korean programs, such as reunion of families separated by the division of the Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.


N. Korean Fishing Boats Retreat After Violating Yellow Sea Border

INCHEON/ SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Seven North Korean fishing boats crossed the tense western maritime border with South Korea twice on Sept. 12, but moved back into the North's waters after a South Korean naval boat broadcast warning messages, military officials said.

   The North Korean fishing boats sailed 1.5 kilometers into the South's waters around 7:30 a.m., but retreated after South Korean patrol boats broadcast a warning, officials at Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

   At the time, a North Korean government boat also briefly crossed the de facto sea border trying to escort the fishing boats back onto the North's side of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea, JCS officials said. No skirmish erupted.

   About two hours later, seven North Korean fishing boats again sailed 2.2 kilometers into the South's waters, but moved back to the North's waters after warning messages from South Korean naval boats, JCS officials said.

   "After our patrol boat ordered them to retreat, the North Korean fishing boats returned to the northern side of the NLL," a JCS official said on the condition of anonymity.

   "Given the circumstances, they sailed into the South's waters for fishing," the official said.

   It was not immediately clear whether the same seven boats had crossed the NLL twice, he said.

   It was the second violation this year involving North Korean fishing boats in the crab-rich waters near the NLL.

   There were about 40 South Korean fishing boats on the southern side of the NLL at the time of the incursion, according to the official.

   The NLL was the scene of several bloody skirmishes between the navies of the two Koreas.

   North Korea does not recognize the NLL, arguing it was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations forces at the conclusion of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce. It has demanded that a new border be drawn further south.