North to allow more S. Korean aid

Supplies from plane, boat arrive

trucks planned

May 01, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TOKYO - Hours after receiving the first known cargo flight in its history from South Korea, North Korea promised yesterday to allow South Korean Red Cross trucks to roll across the demilitarized zone. The two unusual concessions underlined how the humanitarian emergency after last week's train blast is opening doors in North Korea.

In a historic one-hour flight, a Korean Air Boeing 747-400F flew from Seoul to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, carrying 70 tons of aid, including first-aid kits and blankets, to care for the 1,300 injured and thousands left homeless by the April 22 train explosion in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border.

With additional South Korean aid arriving by boat, North Korea's Red Cross said yesterday that it would allow South Korean trucks and bulldozers to cross the border to Kaesong, where North Korea would take over the cargo and equipment, according to Yonhap, a South Korean news agency.

Shocked by images of children injured and blinded by the blast, South Koreans have raised money through telethons, and the government has promised a total of $26 million in aid - almost four times the combined total pledged by the rest of the world.

"We have saved face before the rest of the world," Unification Minister Jeong Se Hyun told reporters, adding that all political parties fully support the government relief programs.

With about 400 still hospitalized yesterday, the death toll stands at 161.

Four days after the blast, a boy was rescued from the rubble of his primary school, according to a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan.

The newspaper, The People's Korea, reported that the boy said, simply, "I am hungry," as he was pulled out.

South Korea's KBS television station provided insight yesterday into why as many as half of the injured were children. After local schools let out at noon, crowds of children gathered to watch the freight train, which had started burning half an hour earlier. At 12:08, the cargo, reportedly ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, blew up.

"I thought it was just an ordinary fire, and didn't expect any explosion, let alone one to be so big," KBS quoted one unidentified witness as saying.

Richard Ragan, an American who arrived at the blast site on Sunday, said in a telephone interview yesterday, "The whole area was littered with book bags, papers and children's shoes. The primary school had two walls collapsed and its roof blown off." Ragan directs the World Food Program mission in North Korea.

In a country where an "army first" policy means that the military gets priority for all goods, North Korea showed sensitivity yesterday to reports that North Korean soldiers had not been seen working at the blast site.

Soldiers "rushed to the spot with several tons of rice, quilts, clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils, school things and satchels on the evening of April 22," the Korean Central News Agency said from Pyongyang. The state-run news agency quoted Han Ki Bok, a 47-year-old coal miner in Ryongchon, as saying it was "servicemen who came here first with relief goods."

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