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East Asia Week in Review - 2002-04-06

North and South Korea agree to resume dialogue aimed at reconciliation. An Indonesian court releases the speaker of parliament pending a verdict in his corruption trial. And human rights groups complain to the United Nations about what they say is China's worsening human rights record. Those stories highlight news from East Asia and the Pacific this week.

North and South Korea this week set about the process of reviving their long-stalled efforts at reconciliation. A presidential envoy from the South was in Pyongyang for four days of talks, including a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Following the talks, the envoy told reporters in Seoul that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had agreed to re-engage in the two-year old peace process with South Korea and he would be willing to restart dialogue with the United States, which was broken off after the Bush administration took office.

An Indonesian court this week ordered Speaker of Parliament Akbar Tandjung released from detention pending a verdict in his corruption trial. Mr. Tandjung left detention at the attorney general's office, after his wife promised the court he would not try to flee the country and would attend further hearings. Mr. Tandjung was detained a month ago after he was charged with corruption. He is accused of taking four million dollars in government funds that were intended for a humanitarian project. The speaker is alleged to have used the money to finance his ruling party's 1999 election campaign. He denies any wrongdoing.

Human rights groups this week called on the United Nations to pressure China to improve what they say is Beijing's worsening record on human rights. The call came in Geneva where the U.N. Human Rights Commission is holding its annual meeting. The activists say millions of people are affected by what they say are mounting abuses in China against religious groups, minorities, labor organizations and pro-democracy activists. The groups allege that China is using the international war against terrorism as an excuse for a crackdown. The United States traditionally presents a resolution on China at the annual meeting, but Washington was voted off the commission last year.

Indonesia's former army chief and minister of defense this week blamed the United Nations for the bloodshed that erupted after East Timor voted for independence in 1999. General Wiranto said chaos broke out because of what he called irregularities in the ballot results. The United Nations supervised the ballot. He spoke at the trial of former East Timor police chief General Timbul Silaen. General Silaen is one of 18 Indonesian officials charged with crimes against humanity in failing to prevent pro-Jakarta militias from killing hundreds of independence supporters. Human rights groups and Western governments have been critical of the Indonesian military role in not preventing the violence.

China this week released its longest serving political prisoner, a 76-year-old Tibetan jailed since 1983 for opposing Chinese rule over Tibet. Human rights groups say Tanak Jigme Sangpo was freed on medical parole from a prison in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. The former school teacher and activist was arrested in September of 1983 and sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of counter-revolutionary incitement and propaganda. China is said to have extended his term at least twice. His release followed months of lobbying by U.S. officials and human rights groups.

Chinese migrants in Hong Kong this week launched a new legal appeal to avoid deportation back to the mainland. Hundreds of them lined up in a downtown park, signing papers to join in a new lawsuit against the Hong Kong government, which has vowed to forcibly send them back if they do not return on their own. Security officials warned the migrants they no longer have any legal recourse that would allow them to stay in the former British colony. Officials gave thousands of mainlanders until March 31 to go home or face deportation. So far, no one has been deported.

South Korean state power plant workers returned to their jobs this week, ending a six-week strike to protest government plans to privatize their industry. The nation's second largest labor group, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, reached a compromise agreement with the government on behalf of the power workers' union. It calls for workers to suspend their anti-privatization campaign and for management to show leniency in punishing strike organizers. However, the government said it will push ahead with plans to privatize the power industry, despite workers' concerns that this could lead to mass layoffs.

Authorities in Burma this week said at least four relatives of former dictator Ne Win will be charged with treason for allegedly plotting to overthrow the military government. Deputy Military Intelligence Chief General Kyaw Win said Ne Win's son-in-law and three grandsons will have to stand trial for what he called high treason. The four were arrested last month after Burmese officials announced they had uncovered the alleged coup plot. Meanwhile, Ne Win and his daughter, Sandar Win, remain under heavy guard at their Rangoon residence.

And a powerful earthquake rocked Taiwan this week, killing at least five people and injuring more than 200 others, mostly in the capital, Taipei. More than 100 aftershocks have been registered since the quake, and seismologists warned of more aftershocks over the next two weeks. Sunday's quake, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, lasted about one minute and was centered 180-kilometers east of Taipei. At least three buildings collapsed and two cranes fell from the 60th floor of a financial center under construction. Four of the dead were construction workers.