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UN to Debate Human Rights Conditions in N. Korea - 2003-04-16

The U.N. Humans Right Commission in Geneva is set to debate a motion Wednesday on the situation in North Korea. The move is getting mixed reactions in South Korea - where the new government is anxious to resolve the issue of the North's nuclear programs, which are said to violate international laws, and resume dialogue on reconciliation between the two countries.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission takes up the situation in North Korea - the first time the UN body will debate the conditions in the communist country.

The European Union has submitted a draft resolution calling on Pyongyang to end its practice of detaining or executing North Korean refugees returned from China and labeled traitors. Among other things, it also requests that international human rights organizations be allowed free access in North Korea.

The South Korean government says it will abstain from voting on an EU sponsored motion - sparking domestic controversy.

South Korea's National Assembly speaker, Park Kwang-yong, branded the government decision not to vote "an irresponsible act." He added the government should be involved in the North's human rights situation regardless of its desire for renewed reconciliation talks with Pyongyang.

In private, some observers and government officials are much more critical saying that abstention is crazy and shows the South's desperation to start negotiations.

The debate comes at a crucial time in inter-Korean relations. The reconciliation process began in June 2000 after the first North-South summit - but it came to a grinding halt last October when the United States accused North Korea of violating international nuclear agreements by secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Since then, dealings with North Korea have been dominated by the nuclear issue. It was only in the past week that North Korea signaled a willingness to accede to U.S. demands that it hold multi-lateral talks on the nuclear dispute.

South Korea has concerns that if the U.N. commission votes to censure North Korea, Pyongyang will respond negatively - setting back chances for progress in negotiations, if they are held at all.