August 3, 2012 / 12:01 PM / in 7 years

North Korea more relaxed on aid access: U.N

GENEVA (Reuters) - Access to North Korea has improved during recent flooding, U.N. agencies said on Friday, suggesting the country is seeking to ease its traditional isolation at least temporarily.

“There’s been a loosening up and more access to the country and a slightly more relaxed atmosphere,” Patrick McCormick, spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told a regular U.N. news conference in Geneva.

Recent torrential rain and a typhoon in North Korea have so far killed 119 people and made more than 84,000 homeless, the official news agency said this week. A U.N. team arrived in the country on Tuesday to develop an aid plan.

“Even before the flooding, the question of access to North Korea has eased for UNICEF’s operations,” McCormick said.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said North Korea had taken the initial step to ask the United Nations for support.

“There was a request to the U.N. to organize a joint mission,” he told reporters.

North Korea has become increasingly prone to flooding because of widespread deforestation.

Such crises have in the past provided opportunities for the isolated nation to reach out to the outside world although this has typically not endured.

World powers have been watching closely to see if new leader Kim Jong-un, who came to power after his father’s death in December, will break from the policy of his predecessors.

Reporting by Emma Farge and Tom Miles

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