December 18, 2009

S Korea Sends N Korea Swine Flu Medicine

Just one day after Pyongyang threatened retaliation over naval drills near their disputed sea border, North Korea made a rare expression of gratitude Friday after South Korea sent swine flu medicine, The Associated Press reported.

Around 500,000 doses of the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza were trucked across the border between North and South Korea.

The gesture is the South Korean government's first humanitarian aid since conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a pledge to pursue a hard-line policy toward the North and hold it accountable to its pledge to disarm it's nuclear weaponry.

After returning from the North's border city Kaesong, the head of the South Korean delegation, Kim Young-il, said South Korean medical officials explained to North Korean counterparts how to use the medicine and its side effects.

Kim said North Korean Health Ministry official Han Su Chol expressed thanks to South Korea for sending medicine.

Last week, North Korea acknowledged for the first time that swine flu had broken out in the country after Seoul offered unconditional aid to help contain it.

While the North has not officially reported any virus-related deaths, Seoul-based civic groups said about 50 people in the North were killed by the flu since early November.

Meanwhile, just one day before the gesture of kindness, North Korea accused Seoul of attempting to escalate tension over what it claimed were South Korean naval drills around their disputed sea border. The North had been threatening retaliation over the incident.

North Korea's Central News Agency said on Thursday that an unidentified source told them the South Korean military staged underwater explosive exercises around the border.

Last month's resulting naval clash left one North Korean sailor dead and three others wounded.

KCNA said the drills represented "a threat and an unpardonable act of crime against us."

The Agency said: "We cannot but view this as a premeditated provocation aimed at raising tension in the militarily sensitive waters. We will deal a merciless retaliatory blow if the South Korean warlike forces keep staging military provocations."

However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in South Korea dismissed the North's claim, maintaining that the drills were routine and took place in the South's territory.

The communist North does not recognize the sea boundary, drawn by the United Nations at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and has long claimed it should be redrawn farther south. The dispute led to deadly skirmishes in 1999, 2002 and last month.

Pyongyang, known for its use of fiery rhetoric, has regularly made such claims and threatened South Korea with destruction.

The North and South are still technically at war as the Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

But after more than a year of recent tensions, the North has been trying to improve relations with South Korea and the United States.