SKorean president offers swine flu aid to NKorea

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2009 11:20 PM

South Korea's president offered Tuesday to send swine flu medication to North Korea amid reports that the virus killed dozens of people and is spreading fast in its impoverished communist neighbor.

The Seoul-based aid group Good Friends said in newsletters Monday that swine flu broke out in the North last month, and that it had already claimed the lives of about 40 people in the border city of Sinuiju, near China, and seven in the capital, Pyongyang.

The North's state media outlets have remained silent on the reported outbreak.

On Tuesday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak instructed the Cabinet to verify the reports and study ways to send swine flu medication to the North without any conditions, his office said in a statement.

"It would be good if emergency aid is provided as there are concerns that swine flu could spread rapidly," Lee told the Cabinet meeting, according to the statement.

The Unification Ministry said it would consider sending a message to the North for talks on the issue.

Lee has halted unconditional aid to the North since taking office early last year, prompting Pyongyang to suspend reconciliation talks and other joint projects in protest. Still, Lee has said he is willing to provide limited amounts of humanitarian assistance.

The two sides remain in a state of conflict, with the 1950-53 Korean War ending in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Good Friends, which sends food and other aid to North Korea, regularly issues newsletters on what is happening in the reclusive nation. While the group does not provide a source for its reports, some of its previous reports about accidents and natural disasters have proven reliable.