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South Korea sends flu medicine to North Korea

Satellite image of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear plant - file photo from 2002
North Korea is believed to be restoring the Yongbyon nuclear facility

South Korea has sent medicine for swine flu to North Korea, after the North said it had nine cases of the virus.

It marks the first government-level assistance from the South to the poor communist North in nearly two years.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had stopped sending aid without steps toward nuclear disarmament.

Recent visits to the North by senior Chinese and US diplomats have been aimed at restarting international talks over the North's nuclear programme.

The shipment of Tamiflu and Relenza, worth $15m (£9.3m) and enough to treat 500,000 people, was taken over the border to the North's town of Kaesong in refrigerated trucks, South Korea's unification ministry said.

Officials say they believe the flu virus to be more widespread in the North than reported so far and do not want to see it spread further with the onset of winter.

Acceptance?

North Korea had expressed its anger towards the hard-line Lee administration's tightening of conditions of aid by refusing at least one planned shipment of corn from the South - but it has accepted the flu medicine.

Chinese Vice Premier Xi Jinping has just completed a trip to South Korea where he was reported to have called for an early resumption of multilateral talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programme.

These discussions - involving the US, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas - are aimed at getting rid of the North's nuclear capabilities in return for aid and security guarantees.

NUCLEAR CRISIS
Oct 2006 - North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test
Feb 2007 - North Korea agrees to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel aid
June 2007 - North Korea shuts its main Yongbyon reactor
June 2008 - North Korea makes its long-awaited declaration of nuclear assets
Oct 2008 - The US removes North Korea from its list of countries which sponsor terrorism
Dec 2008 - Pyongyang slows work to dismantle its nuclear programme, after a US decision to suspend energy aid
April 2009 - Pyongyang launches a rocket carrying what it says is a communications satellite
25 May 2009 - North Korea conducts a second nuclear test
5 August 2009 - Former US President Bill Clinton visits to help secure the release of two detained US journalists
6 October 2009 - North Korea tells China it may be willing to return to six-party talks

US envoy Stephen Bosworth visited Pyongyang last week for talks aimed at bringing it back to nuclear disarmament negotiations.

Mr Bosworth said the North's uranium programme will "clearly be on the agenda" when nuclear talks resume.

"They put it there," he said of the North, in a reference to the North's admission in September that it was in the final stages of enriching uranium.

He confirmed that North Korea had asked for a lifting of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations after the North's missile and nuclear tests in April and May this year.

But sanctions could not be lifted until progress was made on ridding the North of its nuclear weapons, he said.

Meanwhile the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin as saying that work was underway to resume the six-party talks on the Korean nuclear issue.

"The DPRK (North Korea) has confirmed its commitment to the statement of 19 Sept 2005, and said it values six-party talks, so there is a chance," Mr Borodavkin was quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency.



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