Typhoon kills dozens in N Korea

2010-09-15 12:11

Seoul - Dozens of people have died in North Korea after heavy rains and landslides caused by a typhoon which hit the Korean peninsula earlier this month, state media said on Wednesday.

South Korea this week responded to Pyongyang's requests for emergency flood aid, the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures between the rivals after a period of heightened tension following the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in March.

The two Koreas have been in a standoff since Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing the ship, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang has denied the charge and said it would retaliate by force if the South imposed sanctions.

Heavy rains in the impoverished state over the past two months have caused severe flooding and hit food production that even in a good year falls a million tons short of the amount needed to feed its 23 million people.

"Several dozen people have died throughout the country due to torrential rain, strong winds and landslide," the North's official KCNA news agency said referring to Typhoon Kompasu which lashed the Korean peninsula on September 2.

More than 8 300 homes were destroyed and over 30 000 hectares of farmland inundated, KCNA said. Some 65km of railway tracks were washed away, it added.

Hope for better relations

South Korea on Monday offered to ship 5 000 tons of rice and cement to help the North rebuild from the flooding, in the first substantial aid package in more than two years.

President Lee Myung-bak all but cut off ties with the North when he won office in 2008, vowing to push Pyongyang to drop its nuclear weapons programme in return for aid and better economic ties.

Lee said last week he hoped commercial ties could be expanded with the North by building a second factory park when the two rivals are able to defuse tensions.

The conciliatory gestures coincided with preparations in the North for the biggest meeting of its ruling Workers' Party in 30 years, possibly to anoint the youngest son of leader Kim Jong-il as his successor.

But the absence of any report from the North that the meeting had begun has fuelled speculation in the South that Kim may be ill or that recovery work from floods throughout the country has made it difficult to go ahead with the meeting as planned.