Floods wash out Korea summit
SEOUL — The two Koreas agreed yesterday to postpone until Oct. 2-4 the summit they planned to hold this month because of the flooding that has killed hundreds of people and made more than 300,000 homeless in the North.
The meeting, originally set for Aug. 28-30 between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, will be only the second between the leaders of Asia’s fourth-biggest economy and its impoverished, communist neighbor.
North Korea asked for the delay yesterday “considering the urgency of the recovery work on the floods to stabilize the people’s lives” and suggested Seoul pick a convenient date, South Korea’s presidential office said.
“The government has decided to accept the North’s proposal,” a spokesman for Mr. Roh said. “The government has notified the North of President Roh Moo-hyun’s visit to Pyongyang on Oct. 2-4,” he added.
Pyongyang, in a message from the ruling Workers' Party of Korea's United Front Department, swiftly accepted the new dates, another official at the president’s office said.
The summit will be the first in seven years between the two Koreas, which have been divided since the end of World War II and are still technically at war.
Analysts said Mr. Roh is likely to offer Pyongyang a massive economic package. South Korea's central bank, pointing to floods and the international sanctions imposed after a nuclear test conducted last October, said last week that the North’s destitute economy contracted for the first time in eight years in 2006.
A South Korean Unification Ministry official who was scheduled to visit the North on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for the summit said the floods appeared to be the only factor behind secretive North Korea’s decision to delay the meeting.
“They probably tried to work on the flood damage in time for the summit, but it must have been physically difficult,” Unification Vice Minister Lee Kwan-se was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
North Korea and the United Nations said Friday that more than a week of heavy rain through Aug. 14 ruined crops and farmland in a country that does not produce enough food to feed itself, even with a good harvest.
The North’s official press said more than 11 percent of its rice paddies and cornfields were submerged, buried or swept away as heavy rain saturated the lower half of the country.
The flooding has destroyed hundreds of bridges, thousands of buildings and washed away railroads.
The North’s government, the Red Cross and the military were mobilized for recovery and relief work, North Korea’s official news agency said.
The North has shown footage of the flooding on its official TV broadcasts, with residents walking through waist-deep water in the capital, Pyongyang, which would be the site of the summit.
South Korea is sending emergency aid worth $7.5 million to its neighbor.