09/09/2010, 00.00
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Floods in the North, an opportunity for peacemaking between the Koreas

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
For the first time since the election of conservative Lee Myung-bak as president of South Korea, Pyongyang’s Stalinist regime formally requests aid from its neighbour. Rice, cement and building equipment are needed to help victims of devastating rains.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – Floods that devastated North Korea last month have provided an unexpected opportunity for the two Koreas to make up. Following the sinking of ROKS Cheonan, which the South Koreans blamed on the North, diplomatic tensions had increased between Seoul and Pyongyang. However, requests for aid like rice and building material to cope with the flood emergency have raised hopes that intra-Korean relations might restart on a better footing.

North Korea has in fact made an official request to South Korea in response to the offer by the South Korean Red Cross to send food and medicines (estimated at US$ 8.5 million) to flood victims.

Our “government will soon announce whether it will send rice aid to North Korea,” said Cheong Wa Dae, a spokesman for South Korea. “North Korea has never stated what it needs, and since it made a detailed request this time, it is different from the past,” the official added. “In the flow of inter-Korean relations, this is positive.”

The most important request is of course rice. It is the first time since he was elected South Korean president that conservative Lee Myung-bak has shown flexibility towards the North. Unlike his predecessors, he has hitherto set conditions for aid.

Similarly, the release of a South Korean fishing boat and its seven-man crew must be seen as part of the process of improving relations. The North Korean navy had seized the vessel in the Est sea.

The boat, which had four South Korean and three Chinese fishermen, was returning to its homeport in Sokcho, close to the border with the North.

North Korean authorities let it go without conditions.

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