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U.S. Commander Urges N. Korea to Halt 'All Acts of Provocation'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The top U.S. commander in South Korea warned on May 27 that North Korea should stop "all acts of provocation" and pledged to support the South's measures to punish the North for sinking one of its warships.

   "We call on North Korea to cease all acts of provocation and live up to terms of the past agreements including the armistice agreement," Army Gen. Walter Sharp told audiences at Yongsan Garrison, the main U.S. military headquarters in Seoul.

   "We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Korean allies and other nations in the United Nations Command and will sustain our efforts to deter and defeat aggression," Sharp said at a ceremony to mark Memorial Day in the U.S.

   Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have sharply escalated since a multinational investigation on May 20 fingered North Korea as the culprit in the sinking of the Cheonan patrol ship near their Yellow Sea border on March 26. Forty-six crew members were killed in the disaster.

   On May 24, President Lee Myung-bak announced a slew of military, diplomatic and economic measures to punish the North for the sinking, including a move to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

   North Korea, which has consistently denied its involvement in the sinking, has threatened a war if it is punished.

   Sharp called the sinking of the Cheonan an "unprecedented attack by North Korea."

   "As we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom, we pledge to continue to support the Republic of Korea (ROK/ South Korea) and President Lee's announcement that he will bring this issue to the U.N. Security Council," he said.

   The U.S. keeps some 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice agreement, not a peace treaty.


Amnesty International Calls for 'Humanitarian Exemption' of Sanctions on N.K.

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amnesty International (AI) called on May 27 for sparing North Korea from deep-cutting sanctions that will affect ordinary North Koreans and further worsen food shortages in the impoverished nation.

   The appeal came as South Korea, the United States and other nations are seeking to punish the communist North for its deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in an unprovoked attack in late March, which killed 46 sailors.

   The London-based human rights group said in a statement that any proposal for further sanctions on North Korea must include "effective humanitarian exemptions to protect the right to life, food and health of North Korean citizens."

   "If the proposed sanctions do not incorporate such safeguards and are likely to result in serious human rights violations, Amnesty International would oppose them," the group said, releasing its annual global report.

   Although AI does not have information on the details of any Security Council discussion on sanctions at the moment, it urged all sides to refrain from actions that will "endanger the human rights of Koreans" and carefully weigh the "human rights consequences" of their decisions.

   Nearly nine million North Koreans, more than one third of the population, are suffering from severe food shortages, the 2010 report said, noting thousands crossed the border into China in a desperate search for nourishment.
"However, international aid fell drastically following the May nuclear test (last year) and donor fatigue," it added.

   The North is already under U.N. sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests last year. The U.N. member states are required to refrain from giving any further financial aid to the state unless the aid is related to humanitarian activity.


U.S. to Use Multiple Means for N. Korea's Denuclearization: White House

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States said on May 27 it will take multiple avenues to isolate North Korea and force it to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

   "If the socialist country ignore its international obligations, we will pursue multiple means to increase its isolation and bring it into compliance with international nonproliferation norms," a National Security Strategy report released by the Obama administration said. "The nation faces a clear choice. If North Korea eliminates its nuclear weapons program, it will be able to proceed on a path to greater political and economic integration with the international community."

   The report, mandated by Congress, emphasized the shift in national security strategy to multilateralism through diplomacy, a departure from the Bush administration's unilateralism allowing preemptive war, but it did not elaborate on the multiple means.

   "The United States will pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," it said. "This is not about singling out nations -- it is about the responsibilities of all nations and the success of the nonproliferation regime."

   The six-party talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs, stalled since December 2008, appear moribund since the sinking of a South Korean warship by a North Korean submarine.

   South Korea and the U.S. say they will not proceed with the six-party process until the attack on the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea in March, is addressed.

   South Korea also seeks the support of China and Russia in condemning North Korea for the incident at the U.N. Security Council, where Beijing and Moscow hold veto power.

   Speaking on an MSNBC program, Jon Huntsman, U.S. ambassador to China, voiced support for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and expressed hope that Beijing will soon join the international efforts to condemn North Korea at the Security Council.

   "We're coming at it from different points of view," he said. "I think we're closing the gap on this. It's about presenting the facts as we know it. It's about listening carefully to what President Lee in South Korea has said. I think he's taken a very measured and studied approach. We support that and we'll see what China chooses to do."


NPT Conference Calls on North Korea to Change Ways, Denuclearize

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The nuclear nonproliferation conference of 189 countries on May 28 called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and return to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, from which it withdrew in 2003.

   The 28-page declaration, adopted unanimously by the five-yearly conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), "strongly urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK/ North Korea) to fulfill commitments under the six-party talks, including the complete and verifiable abandonment of all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in accordance with the September 2005 Joint Statement," according to the U.N. Web site.

   It is the first time that the NPT conference singled out North Korea in its declaration.

   North Korea signed a six-party deal in 2005 for its denuclearization, but has boycotted the talks since early last year when the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to impose an overall arms and financial embargo on the North in response to its second nuclear test. (The first one took place in 2006.)
The nuclear talks hit another snag in recent months over the sinking of a South Korean warship in the sea border with North Korea in the Yellow Sea in March that killed 46 sailors.

   North Korea denies responsibility, but an international team concluded on May 20 a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine is behind the sinking, leading South Korea and the U.S. to seek condemnation of the North at the U.N. Security Council.

   Seoul and Washington say they will not continue the six-party process until the incident is accounted for.

   The declaration also urged North Korea to "return, at an early date, to the treaty and to its adherence with the IAEA safeguards."

   Pyongyang expelled inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, in early 2003 amid a fresh dispute over its nuclear weapons programs as Washington denounced Pyongyang for running a secret nuclear program in violation of the 1994 Geneva Framework Agreement that froze its nuclear facilities in return for energy and economic aid.

   The declaration was adopted at the end of a month-long conference to call for, among others, convening of a regional conference in 2012 "attended by all Middle Eastern States, on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by states in the region."


N. Korea Could Make Further Provocations after Ship Sinking: Mullen

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The top U.S. military officer on May 30 warned of further provocations by North Korea following the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea in March.

   "North Koreans committed, you know, a heinous act, and I'm concerned there could be follow-on activities," Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with "Fox News on May 30," adding North Korean leader Kim Jong-il "just doesn't seem to do single things."

   Mullen said that the torpedoing of the 1,200-ton Cheonan and Kim's failing health made the security situation in Northeast Asia "more fragile," adding "the goal remains to certainly not have a conflict break out."

   Some reports said Kim Jong-un, 27, the third and youngest son of the ailing North Korean leader, is behind the attack on the Cheonan, just like the role the senior Kim played in the downing of a Korean Air flight that killed all 115 passengers aboard in 1987 while he was being groomed to succeed his father Kim Il-sung, the North's founder. Kim Jong-il took over power in 1994 when Kim Il-sung died of a heart attack.

   North Korea vehemently denies involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, severing all ties with South Korea and threatening an all-out war if sanctioned or punished for the incident.

   South Korea plans to bring the case to the U.N. Security Council soon with the support of the U.S. and other allies for more sanctions on the North, in addition to those already in place for its nuclear and missile tests last year.

   Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, however, neither blamed North Korea for the incident, nor hinted at support for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's plans for UNSC actions.

   While giving a joint press conference with Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in the southern South Korean resort island of Jeju Sunday, Wen stressed the need to "avoid conflict" and "maintain peace and stability," although Lee sought "wise cooperation" from China and other countries on the issue.

   The three-way annual summit was meant to focus on trade and other cooperation issues, but it was overshadowed by the ship sinking.

   It is not clear whether Wen will shift his position during the three-day visit to Japan that began Sunday afternoon. Participation of China, a veto power in the Security Council, is crucial in effectively condemning or sanctioning North Korea, which is dependent on its communist ally for energy, food and other necessities.


Half of Hong Kong Financiers See N. Korean Leader Losing Control

HONG KONG (Yonhap) -- Nearly half of the financiers in Hong Kong believe North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is losing his grip on power in light of the country's deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March, an online poll showed on June 1.

   According to the survey of 130 financial people conducted last week by the monthly publication Finance Asia, 48 percent of respondents doubted the reclusive leader was in control of the isolated country' military.

   An additional 33 percent thought Kim was not losing his power, while the remainder said they did not know what was going on in Pyongyang, according to the findings.