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ASEAN touches on North abductions

JIJI, AFP-JIJI

A statement issued after a regional security meeting of foreign ministers Tuesday indirectly referred to the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea.

The ASEAN Regional Forum “emphasized the importance of addressing the issue of abduction, which is a humanitarian issue,” said the statement, which was issued after the meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida highlighted the importance of the abduction issue during the meeting of top diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its dialogue partners.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is committed to resolving the issue while in office, Kishida said.

But North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun, voicing Pyongyang’s position, said the abduction issue has been resolved.

Kishida, while explaining what has been discussed between Tokyo and Pyongyang, responded that North Korea’s claim is contrary to facts. Kishida also said there are abduction victims other than Japanese nationals.

Many attendants in the ASEAN Regional Forum, which include 26 countries across the Asia-Pacific as well as dialogue partners from across the globe, criticized recent provocative actions by the North and urged Pyongyang to abide by U.N. resolutions, according to Kishida.

A number of participants urged the North to halt its nuclear arms program and end provocations, Seoul’s envoy said.

“Most ministers at the meeting expressed a very strong message to the North Korean delegation that they should denuclearize, they should refrain from provocative action,” South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters on the sidelines. “So they have to listen to these messages very seriously.”

But North Korean Foreign Minister Pak fired back, calling the United States the “true provocateur” and saying it would retain its nuclear weapons program until Washington drops its “hostile” stance.

“Unless the U.S. removes all its anti-North policies and threats against us, any problems including the nuclear issues on the (Korean) Peninsula will not be solved,” North Korean official Choe Myung Nam told reporters, citing Pak.

A day earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks with his counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea in Brunei that the four nations were united on the issue.

China is the main ally of North Korea, which defiantly carried out its third nuclear test in February and threatened to attack the U.S., in language shrill even by the standards of the reclusive communist state.

A joint statement released hours after the forum avoided tough language but “encouraged” Pyongyang to abide by U.N. resolutions, and called for denuclearization and peaceful dialogue.

Diplomats also urged a resumption of the long-stalled six-party talks aimed at negotiating the North’s disarmament.

In a flurry of diplomatic activity, the gathering in Brunei also saw Beijing face pressure over its South China Sea claims, while the top U.S. and Russian envoys met to discuss thorny issues, including the Syrian conflict and Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. National Security Agency contractor who leaked information on a top-secret surveillance program.

On the issue of the South China Sea, the Philippines accused Beijing of a military build-up to enforce its claims to nearly all of the disputed waters. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been pushing a reluctant China for talks on a set of rules governing conduct at sea. China claims virtually all of the South China Sea and has long resisted moves to talk with ASEAN as a bloc, but on Sunday in Brunei it agreed to begin discussing a code of conduct.