31/08/2004

North Korea to receive UK's first Ministerial visitor

North Korea's nuclear programme and their human rights record will top the agenda when Bill Rammell visits the country next month in the first-ever trip by a British minister to the communist nation.

High-level discussions with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun, and other senior figures, are planned. The Head of the Human Rights Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Jon Benjamin, will also join Mr Rammell on the visit delegation.

Speaking ahead of the visit to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Foreign Minister said that the time was right for genuine engagement.

"The UK genuinely wants to engage with North Korea. I believe the time is right for a British Minister to visit, as the North Koreans have for the first time agreed that they are willing to discuss with us the human rights situation in North Korea," Mr Rammell.

The Minister pledged to convey the UK's "deep concern" over the nuclear programme and will urge North Korea to remain "committed to the agreed objectives of the talks process – namely the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula".

"I will also convey the UK's concern at the dreadful reports that we continue to hear about the human rights situation in the DPRK. I want to get beyond the automatic denials," he said.

"I will urge the North Korean authorities to comply with the resolutions of the UN Commission on Human Rights."

The UK established diplomatic relations with North Korea in December 2000 and opened an Embassy in Pyongyang in July 2001 with a Charge d'Affaires. The first British Ambassador to DPRK, David Slinn, arrived in Pyongyang in November 2002.

The North Koreans opened an Embassy in London in Autumn 2002, and its ambassador arrived in September 2003.

(gmcg)

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