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NUKEWARS
In call with Trump, Xi urges 'restraint' on N. Korea: govt
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) April 24, 2017


Rights group urges China to release N. Korean refugees
Seoul (AFP) April 24, 2017 - China should immediately reveal the whereabouts of eight North Koreans it detained last month, Human Rights Watch said Monday, adding they risk severe torture if they were returned to the North.

Most North Korean refugees begin their escape by crossing into China and then try to make it to third countries -- often in Southeast Asia -- where they seek asylum in the South.

If caught and returned to the North they can face severe punishment.

China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal "economic migrants" and repatriates them based on a border protocol adopted in 1986.

"By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong-Un's administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

The group it highlighted -- which includes at least four women -- was detained by Chinese officials in mid-March after they were stopped for a random check in Shenyang, in northeastern China.

Human Rights Watch said that on the basis of information from sources it considers usually reliable, the group was still believed to be jailed in China. But it feared they may soon be returned to the North since "most repatriations happen two months after detention".

"There is no way to sugar coat this: if this group is forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk," Robertson said.

Seoul's foreign ministry did not confirm the HRW account, saying its protocol was not to publicly comment on individual refugee cases for their own safety and to protect diplomatic relations.

"But we closely coordinate with a nation involved when a problem involving North Korean refugees arises," it said in a statement, and was in general "doing our best to ensure the safety and safe transfer of those who wish to come to the South".

More than 40 North Koreans, including children and pregnant women, have been held by China over the past nine months, Human Rights Watch said, and at least nine forcibly returned to the North.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, more than 30,000 North Koreans have escaped -- most after a deadly famine in the mid-90s -- and settled in the South.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is believed to have tightened border controls since he came to power after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011.

The number of refugees arriving in South Korea plunged nearly 50 percent to 1,417 last year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged "restraint" on North Korea during a phone call Monday with US President Donald Trump, days before an American supercarrier is due to arrive in the Korean Peninsula.

The conversation came amid growing concerns that Pyongyang will conduct another nuclear or missile test to mark the 85th anniversary on Tuesday of the founding of its Korean People's Army.

"(China) hopes that the relevant parties can maintain restraint and avoid actions that would increase tensions in the Korean Peninsula," Xi said, according to a statement from the foreign ministry.

"The only way to realise denuclearisation in the Korean Peninsula and quickly resolve North Korea's nuclear problem is for each relevant party to fulfil its duties."

It was the second phone call between the two leaders since their summit at Trump's luxury resort in Florida early this month.

Speaking in Sydney on Saturday, US Vice President Mike Pence said the American aircraft carrier Carl Vinson would arrive in the Sea of Japan, bordering the Korean Peninsula, "in a matter of days".

The ship joined other warships for joint exercises with Japan in the Philippine Sea on Sunday.

Confusion has clouded the carrier group's whereabouts in recent days after President Donald Trump suggested the "armada" was steaming towards North Korea when in fact it was sent towards Australia.

Pence also renewed calls for Beijing -- Pyongyang's only major ally and largest trade partner -- to use its "unique" position to bring Pyongyang to heel.

"The steps we're seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea are very welcome," Pence said.

"We do believe China can do more."

In February China announced it was halting all imports of coal from North Korea -- a crucial earner for Pyongyang -- for the rest of the year.

China also issued a stern warning earlier this month that a conflict over North Korea could break out "at any moment", as Pyongyang vowed a "merciless" response to any US military action.

The comments came ahead of a failed missile test coinciding with the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-Sung.

The North has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks, threatening to hit back against any provocation from the US and its regional allies, Japan and South Korea, which both host large American military contingents.

Before his latest conversation with Xi, Trump called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking to him about the joint drill between the Carl Vinson and Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force.

"I told him that we highly appraise US words and actions that show all options are on the table," Abe told reporters following the call.

"We completely agreed that we strongly demand restraint by North Korea, which has repeatedly taken dangerous provocative actions."

NUKEWARS
New actor Trump heightens N. Korea drama: analysts
Seoul (AFP) April 21, 2017
Geopolitical tensions flare every spring on the Korean peninsula, but analysts say the anxiety of recent weeks has been magnified by the unpredictable new player in the annual drama: Donald Trump. North Korea always intensifies its rhetoric when Seoul and Washington stage annual large-scale joint military drills that it condemns as rehearsals for a potential invasion. But this time threa ... read more

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