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(LEAD) N. Korea reschedules acceptance of S. Korea's anti-flu aid

All Headlines 17:08 February 19, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with N. Korea rescheduling acceptance of aid; RECASTS lead, headline; RESTRUCTURES)

SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Friday postponed its scheduled acceptance of anti-flu sanitizer from South Korea next week by a day, citing unspecified procedural matters, an official here said.

South Korea had planned to send 1 billion won (about US$863,000) worth of hand sanitizer next Monday to help its impoverished communist neighbor fight the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

Unification Ministry spokesperson Chun Hae-sung told reporters the North has asked his government to deliver the 200,000 liters of sanitizer on Tuesday instead, citing "procedural relations."

"It appears the North needs another day for internal preparations" before receiving the aid, which will be transported on 20 25-ton trucks across the heavily guarded land border, Chun said.

The scheduled aid comes amid rising tension after North Korea renewed "no-sail" warnings off both coasts of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea last month fired hundreds of artillery shells into its side of the sea border in the Yellow Sea.

A Unification Ministry official said earlier in the day that the tension will not affect the planned delivery, which comes after Seoul delivered some $15 million in anti-viral medications to Pyongyang in December last year.

"The two issues will be unrelated for now," the official said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Chun said North Korea notified South Korea that a team of medical experts will be present Tuesday at a train station in the North Korean border town of Kaesong to handle the South Korean aid.

The Tamiflu aid in December marked the South Korean government's first humanitarian assistance to North Korea since President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul in early 2008.

Lee cut off what his supporters called unconditional aid to the North sent by his liberal predecessors over the past decade, conditioning exchanges on progress in the North's denuclearization.

North Korea, which has relied on international handouts since the mid-1990s to feed its 24 million people, first acknowledged cases of Influenza A infection on Dec. 9. It has yet to report any flu-related deaths.

The renewed inter-Korean contact comes amid a flurry of diplomacy in the region on ways to resume a multilateral negotiating forum on ending the North's nuclear arms program.

The H1N1 flu virus is widely transmitted via contact with the hands, raising demand for hand sanitation products.

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