North lashes out over new UN field office

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North lashes out over new UN field office

Pyongyang warned of strong retribution against Seoul for hosting a United Nations field office devoted to investigating North Korea’s dire human rights situation and said the office would be its “first target.”

The rhetoric against the international community’s efforts to address what experts agree are brutal rights conditions in the North came as South Korea prepares to establish the office, which could open as early as this month.

Last year, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights selected South Korea as the location to establish a new field office to investigate North Korea’s human rights abuses; it beat out other potential host countries like Japan and Thailand.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland lashed out at the South Korean government, arguing that the UN field office would be used as a base for campaigns against North Korea.

“As soon as that anti-North base gets set up in the South, it will be our very first target with merciless retribution,” North Korea said.

Once open, the UN outpost is expected to conduct in-depth investigation into allegations concerning human rights abuses in the country, interviewing North Korean defectors in the South and collecting relevant material.

The reclusive Communist state also criticized the South Korean government for co-sponsoring a resolution condemning rights violations in the North, which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on Saturday, calling it a provocation against the Pyongyang regime.

The resolution, co-sponsored by 53 countries including South Korea and adopted by a vote of 27-6, welcomes the installment of a UN field office in Seoul and calls on North Korea to respect the rights of its citizens.

“The resolution on North Korean human rights drafted by the U.S. and its puppet groups is nothing more than a document that aims to overthrow our regime and violate the dignity of the supreme leadership of our republic,” North Korea said.

Pyongyang’s remarks come as relations between the two Koreas remain gridlocked.

It has yet to respond to Seoul’s calls for negotiation over North Korea’s unilateral decision to raise the minimum wage for North Korean workers at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The North has also refused to hold talks to discuss the potential lift of economic sanctions imposed in retaliation for its torpedoing of the Cheonan warship, which left 46 South Korean sailors dead in 2010.

The North has demanded the South lift the sanctions, which ban inter-Korean economic cooperation with the exception of the Kaesong complex. However, it continues to deny responsibility for the sinking.

Pyongyang has also ignored Seoul’s demands for it to free three South Koreans held captive, who are accused of spying on the regime on behalf of the South’s main intelligence agency.

South Korea has denied those allegations and called on Pyongyang to respect international protocol, either by releasing them or allowing them to meet with South Korean lawyers.

“It is an intolerable insult to us that the South is demanding improved human rights here at a time when it has been revealed that it was seeking to undermine our leadership and commit acts of terror by sending spies here,” the North said in regard to the three captives.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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