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Kim conveys sympathies through letter to Moon

Mar 06,2020
South Korean President Moon Jae-in received a personal letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressing his sympathies for the South Korean people in their fight against a massive coronavirus outbreak, announced the Blue House Thursday.

Yoon Do-han, the senior presidential secretary for public communication, said in an afternoon briefing that Kim wrote he was confident the South Korean people “will prevail in this fight [against the current virus epidemic] without fail” and that he wished “for the continued good health of the brethren in the South.”

Kim further voiced “frustration” that he could not do more at the moment than show concern for Moon’s personal health, Yoon said, while reiterating his “unwavering friendship and faith” in the president.

The letter also contained Kim’s “candid thoughts and positions” on the current political situation on the Korean Peninsula, Yoon added without providing further details.

In reply, Moon conveyed his gratitude for Kim’s letter in his own letter delivered to the North the same day on Thursday, Yoon said.

Kim’s missive represents the first time in months the North Korean leader directly engaged Moon, marking a radical departure in tone from the vitriol contained in a statement from Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong released a day earlier.

The statement from Kim Yo-jong was riddled with aggressive attacks directed at the Blue House for its response to Pyongyang’s artillery drill on Monday, going so far as to accuse the presidential office of being “incoherent and imbecile.”

North Korea continues to claim it has no confirmed coronavirus infections, recently taking steps to somewhat ease quarantine measures on foreigners on its soil.

According to Russia and Sweden’s embassies in Pyongyang, the regime this week released foreign diplomats from a weeks-long quarantine.

The Russian Embassy in Pyongyang on Wednesday announced the quarantine on most of its employees imposed since Feb. 1 was lifted on Monday, posting photographs of medical confirmation notices from the North’s Health Ministry as proof.

Swedish ambassador to North Korea Joachim Bergstrom on Tuesday also uploaded a photograph of himself out of quarantine in Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang on his Twitter account, showing he, too, was out of isolation.

According to the outlet Voice of America, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) permanent observer at the United Nations, Richard Blewitt, said three of the organization’s non-North Korean employees working in Pyongyang had been quarantined but released on Tuesday.

While stressing none of its citizens had been infected with the virus yet, Pyongyang’s state media in late February reported that thousands of its own citizens in multiple provinces had been placed under “medical observation” after visiting foreign countries or showing irregular symptoms.

Including diplomats and aid workers, around 700 foreigners were placed under quarantine by the regime, according to its state media.

Korean Central Television, the regime’s only state broadcaster, ran a report on Feb. 24 that said the 700 or so foreigners under quarantine would soon be released according to authorities.

A South Korean government official said the measure was part of a nationwide policy to crack down on possible coronavirus contaminants starting from mid-January, when the regime closed its borders with China and Russia, which are also its closest trading partners.

The IFRC recently obtained an exemption from international sanctions from the United Nations to ship medical equipment and supplies into North Korea to fight the coronavirus. Given its poverty, the country is believed to be ill equipped to handle a mass epidemic, which was one of the reasons behind its early decision to close its borders.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK AND JEONG YONG-SOO [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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