Parliamentarians see golden opportunity to tear down 'Asia's Berlin Wall'

By staff writers
February 8, 2009

British Parliamentarians have said that the new Obama administration brings with it a golden opportunity for a formal cessation of hostilities and normalisation of relations with North Korea.

Lord David Alton and Baroness Caroline Cox made the observation as they returned from a five day visit to North Korea at the weekend.

The parliamentarians expressed deep concerns over human rights, humanitarian and security issues during high level meetings with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) government ministers and officials.

Lord Alton who is Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea said: “The 1950-53 Korean War which claimed up to 3.5 million lives (including 1000 British serviceman), remains unfinished business. The principle combatants are still technically at war and the stand off is the longest running conflict that America has with any other nation.

"This is the moment to dispense with Asia's Berlin War. A decade ago Britain established a diplomatic mission in the Pyongyang and it is time for the Americans to do the same. President Obama should now seize the moment. Deteriorating relations between North and South could jeopardise this historic opportunity.”

The parliamentarians pressed the DPRK to grant access to Professor Vittit Muntarbhorn - the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights. He has estimated that 400,000 people have died in the country’s camps in the last 30 years.

Baroness Cox who is vice chairman of the All Party Parliamentary group added: “We presented evidence to the DPRK authorities of some of the estimated 200,000 people detained in Soviet style prison camps. In addition 2 million people died here as a result of food shortages in the 1990s and we urge the DPRK to allow greater access for aid agencies to carry out their work – in particular in the areas of capacity building and health care: food should never be used as a weapon of war.”

The parliamentarians also reported positive developments which they said justified a Helsinki style approach of constructive critical engagement with Pyongyang – a Helsinki Process with a Korean face. Security concerns and human rights should go hand in hand, they said.

Lord Alton and Baroness Cox last travelled to the DPRK five years ago after which they established the all party parliamentary group. The group has held a number of meetings where they have taken evidence from North Korean witnesses.

Lord Alton will travel on to Seoul, South Korea for further high level meetings and Lady Cox will be presenting a report of their findings to the Foreign Office.

Keywords:north korea | dprk
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