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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 229 (Sept. 27, 2012)

Aid Group Sends First Cross-border Flood Aid Shipment to N. Korea

PAJU, South Korea (Yonhap) -- This year's first batch of private relief food aid was shipped across the border to flood-stricken North Korea on Sept. 21 with more South Korean private aid groups expected to send relief goods.

   Twenty 25-ton trucks carrying 500 tons of flour left for the North at 10:00 a.m. through the border transit center in Paju, north of Seoul.

   The relief goods from Christian charity group World Vision are the first cross-border food aid shipment following recent heavy floods in the impoverished country.

   The bags of flour will be unloaded in Kaesong and distributed to kindergartens and elementary schools in the most heavily affected cities of Anju and Kaechon.

   World Vision officials will "visit the (distribution) site and monitor the distribution process as we have agreed with the North," a World Vision official said.

   The food assistance was arranged after World Vision officials traveled to Kaesong in mid-August to discuss the group's aid plan with the North.

   It also occurred one day after South Korean Buddhist charity group JTS loaded another 500 tons of flour on a cargo ship that set sail for the North via the Chinese port city of Dandong.

   The North's acceptance of the food aid from the private South Korean groups came despite the socialist country's refusal last week to accept flour, instant noodles and medicine from the South Korean government.

   Since President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 with a hard-line policy toward the North, the North has refused to communicate with the South.

   Government officials say the North's acceptance of private-sector assistance indicates either a dire food situation in the North or a quest for a thaw in its restrained relations with the South.


Handover of North Korean Soldier's Body Put off Again

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The planned handover of the body of a North Korean soldier swept away in flood waters to the South in August was put off again on Sept. 24 as the socialist nation proposed another date to take it over, an official said.

   The American-led United Nations Command notified the North that it would hand over the body on Sept. 24 morning, but the plan fell through as the North said it would accept it on another date, a UNC official said without disclosing the date the North has proposed.

   South Korea retrieved the body from the Hantan River near the border on Aug. 23.

   The UNC first proposed to return the body on Sept. 14, but the North did not respond to the offer. The North later notified the UNC that it would accept the body on Sept. 19, but the UNC proposed Sept. 24 as a counterproposal.

   "North Korea has never refused to accept the bodies of its soldiers swept away in flooding," the UNC official said. "We will review the date the North has proposed before proposing a meeting again."


Seoul to Urge N.K. to Halt Any Attempt to Affect Presidential Election

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak and top South Korean security officials decided on Sept. 26 to urge North Korea to halt any attempt to affect the South's presidential election and reaffirmed their pledge to strongly punish the North in case of provocations, an official said.

   The security ministers' meeting took place amid heightened tensions around the Yellow Sea border between the two Koreas in the wake of numerous intrusions by North Korean fishing boats. Last week, the South's Navy fired warnings shots to repel North Korean vessels.

   Some analysts suspect the string of violations, along with other propaganda campaigns, could be part of an attempt by the communist nation to raise tensions in order to cause social division in the South ahead of December's presidential election.

   North Korea is one of the most divisive issues in South Korean society, with liberals calling for greater reconciliation efforts and conservatives calling for principle stands. In the past, Pyongyang used its propaganda outlets to attempt to influence elections in the South by criticizing or praising candidates, mainly over their stances on the North.

   "The government decided to urge North Korea to immediately halt attempts to intervene in our presidential election, which have been sharply increasing recently," presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha said in a statement after the security ministers' meeting.

   Lee called for a solid national security posture ahead of the election, the statement said.

   Lee and the ministers also reaffirmed that the South's military will "strongly punish" the North in case of provocations while preparing thoroughly for any attempted provocations ahead of the election, it said.

   They also welcomed Beijing's agreement to have Chinese fishing boats leave waters around the Korean sea border. The agreement came at a foreign ministers' meeting of the two countries that was held in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

   Lee and the ministers also expressed disappointment at the outcome of the Sept. 25 meeting of the North's rubber-stamp parliament, saying the meeting produced no measures to improve the lives of ordinary North Korean people, according to the statement.

   The session was watched closely amid speculation that the impoverished nation could announce drastic economic reform measures. However, the meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly only approved a compulsory 12-year education system and personnel decisions at its presidium.