Czech finance ministry: North Korea offers ginseng to pay back its $10 million debt

PRAGUE (AP) — North Korea has offered a unique way to repay nearly $10 million in Cold War-era debt — with ginseng, according to Czech officials.

The Czech Finance Ministry said it has been negotiating ways for the impoverished Asian nation to pay back $9.8 million (euro7.66 million) from the late 1980s, when Czechoslovakia was part of the communist bloc.

Then, Czechoslovakia delivered to its North Korean ally trams, trucks and various machines.

North Korea proposed during talks in July that the Czechs forgive 95 percent of the debt, but Czech officials said that was unacceptable.

The Czechs then suggested the North Koreans pay in goods, and North Korea proposed sending medical products made of ginseng. The ginseng root is touted as a cure-all for everything from headaches to sexual dysfunction.

The ministry said it has not received an official offer yet.

Communist North Korea has relied on outside food handouts since the mid-1990s, when the economy collapsed due to natural disasters and mismanagement, and aid from the former Soviet Union dried up after the bloc's collapse.

But it still have means to test nuclear weapons and has test-fired a long-range missile built to strike the western U.S.