South Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak has offered to send swine flu medication to North Korea after an aid group reported that a major swine flu outbreak in the communist state had already claimed the lives of 40 people.

Seoul-based aid group Good Friends reported in a newsletter that a swine flu epidemic had claimed the lives of about 40 people in the border city of Sinuiju, near China, and around seven people in the capital Pyongyang.

The South Korean president has since instructed the Cabinet to verify the reports and to discuss options to send swine flu medication to the North without any conditions.

In an official statement President Lee said that it would be good if emergency aid is provided as there are concerns that swine flu could spread rapidly.

The South Korean Unification Ministry has said it would consider sending a message to the North for talks on the issue. The North Korean media has so far remained silent on the issue.

Aid to the North has slowed since President Lee took office, prompting a suspension of many joint projects between the two neighbours, which have been locked in a tense standoff since the 1950s when a truce, not a peace treaty, signalled the end of the Korean War.