Thursday, April 11, 2013

G8 ministers condemn North Korea nuclear moves

Foreign ministers from the G8 group of nations have condemned in the "strongest possible terms" North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

Tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula in recent weeks.

In a communique, the ministers also expressed their "deep concern" at the toll of the conflict in Syria.

They also endorsed what they called a historic pledge on preventing sexual violence in conflict.

The Group of Eight nations comprises the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia.

Britain currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the G8 and the talks are a prelude to the annual G8 summit later this year in Northern Ireland.

Correspondents say Japan, present at the talks, had been looking for a strong statement of solidarity over Korea.

North Korea has been making bellicose threats against South Korea, Japan and US bases in the region.

The G8 ministers reportedly pledged to work to end sexual violence in conflict, calling for urgent action to address "comprehensively" the "culture of impunity" in conflict zones.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague had said the issue of sexual violence in conflict zones was his own "personal priority" for the talks.

Missile threat

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says ministers agree that the combination of warlike threats from North Korea and preparations for new missile tests amount to dangerous provocation.

"There is no disagreement with the United States over North Korea," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in London on Wednesday.

South Korea has raised its alert level amid indications that the North is preparing for a missile test.

Pyongyang has moved two Musudan missiles to its east coast. Estimates of the ballistic missile's range vary, but some suggest it could be as high as 4,000km (2,500 miles).

A missile therefore has the potential of hitting US bases on Guam, although it is not known whether the Musudan has been tested before.

There is also no evidence the North has miniaturised a nuclear weapon sufficiently to be used on a ballistic missile.

Correspondents point to Monday - the birthday of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung - as a potential launch date.

North Korea has increased its fiery rhetoric following fresh UN sanctions imposed after its third nuclear test and joint military manoeuvres by the US and South Korea.

The North says it will restart a mothballed nuclear reactor, has shut an emergency military hotline to the South and has urged countries to withdraw diplomatic staff, saying it cannot now guarantee their safety.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been among those calling for calm on the peninsula.

In Washington on Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said North Korea was "skating very close to a dangerous line", adding: "Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation.''

However, in the past few days North Korea's media appear to be in more of a holiday mood, as Kim Il-sung's birthday on Monday approaches.

Humanitarian assistance

At a press conference at the end of the morning session, Mr Hague said the ministers had agreed on plans to tackle "the horrific use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war in conflicts around the globe", which he described as "one of the greatest and most persistent injustices in the world".

Mr Hague said the G8 had "committed to the development of a comprehensive international protocol on the investigation and documentation of rape and sexual violence in conflict".

The UN special envoy for refugees, Angelina Jolie, said that wartime rape should not be regarded as inevitable, saying: "It can be prevented and must be confronted."

She said she welcomed the "long overdue stance of the G8".

"Finally have some hope to offer victims," she said.

On Syria, the ministers called for greater humanitarian assistance to Syrians affected by the conflict.

They affirmed their support for a "political transition", but did not mention any punitive measures against President Bashar al-Assad.

Fresh evidence of links between some opposition fighters and al-Qaeda has made it even harder for governments to decide a course of action, correspondents say.

G8 ministers met Syrian opposition figures on Wednesday on the sidelines of the two-day forum.

Leaders of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) had reportedly pressed for more humanitarian assistance.

Mr Kerry, however, stressed the importance of the opposition becoming better organised, a senior US official told reporters.

More than 60,000 people are estimated to have died since the uprising against the government of President Assad began in March 2011.

The London talks were also the first chance for G8 ministers to discuss face-to-face the failure of last week's meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on curbing Iran's nuclear programme.

Tehran says it only wants to produce energy but the US and its allies suspect it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

Burma, Somalia and cyber-security were also topics on the agenda.-British Broadcasting Corporation (April 11, 2013)

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