Trump says to meet with North Korea’s Kim on June 12 in Singapore

FILE PHOTO - A combination photo shows a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) handout of Kim Jong Un released on May 10, 2016, and Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA handout via Reuters/File Photo & REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore for a first ever summit between the leaders of the two countries.

“The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Trump said on Twitter.

The two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons development and testing program, which has deepened long-seated tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Trump’s announcement came just hours after three Americans who had been held prisoner in North Korea arrived at a U.S. military base outside Washington, having been released by Kim.

Trump said on their arrival that he believed Kim wanted to bring North Korea “into the real world” and had high hopes for their planned meeting, which would be the first between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

“I think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” Trump said. “My proudest achievement will be – this is part of it – when we denuclearize that entire peninsula.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

U.N. broadens inquiry into North Korea ‘crimes against humanity’

Mun Jong Chol, counselor at the North Korea mission to the U.N. in Geneva, talks with journalists aside of a meeting of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The top United Nations human rights body agreed on Friday to widen its investigation into widespread violations in North Korea with a view to documenting alleged crimes against humanity for future prosecution.

North Korea said it “categorically and totally rejects” the resolution adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council. The text had been framed by the United States and “other hostile forces” for political reasons “to strangle the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea),” its envoy said after boycotting the debate.

The 47-member state Geneva forum adopted a resolution, brought by Japan and the European Union and backed by the United States, on the final day of its four-week session without a vote.

The U.N. human rights office in Seoul will be strengthened for two years with international criminal justice experts to establish a central repository for testimony and evidence “with a view to developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process”, the text said.

The Seoul office deploys six staff who conduct in-depth interviews with dozens of North Korean defectors each week, recording their testimony, a U.N. official based there told Reuters. Some 1,400 North Koreans arrive each year in South Korea, most via China, he said.

DEFECTORS’ TESTIMONY

“This not only brings North Koreans one step closer to justice for human rights crimes they have suffered, but should also make North Korean government officials think twice before inflicting more abuse,” John Fisher of the group Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a landmark 2014 report based on interviews and public hearings with defectors, cataloged massive violations in North Korea – including large prison camps, starvation and executions – that it said should be brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“The ‘resolution’ is nothing more than a document for interference in internal affairs of sovereign states and represents the culmination of politicization, selectivity and double standards of human rights,” Mun Jong Chol, a counselor at North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva, told reporters.

It was a fraudulent document full of “lies, fabrications and plots”, Mun said.

China said it “dissociated” itself from the council’s decision and called for dialogue.

The situation on the divided Korean peninsula is “complex and sensitive” and all sides should avoid provocation by an act or words that might lead to an escalation”, China’s delegation said.

“China hopes we can focus on the bigger picture,” it said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Ralph Boulton)

U.N. urged to prepare North Korea case for alleged crimes against humanity

The North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – A veteran investigator urged the United Nations on Thursday to appoint an international legal expert to prepare judicial proceedings against North Korea’s leadership for documented crimes against humanity.

His call came amid an international furor over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and critic of his rule, in Malaysia last month.

A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a 2014 report issued after it conducted interviews and public hearings with defectors, cataloged massive violations in North Korea – including large prison camps, starvation and executions – that it said should be brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general who served on the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea, said the U.N. Human Rights Council must pursue North Korean accountability during its current session.

“There is a need for the Human Rights Council to appoint an independent special expert to oversee the judicial prosecutorial process which will lead up to an eventual mechanism of accountability,” Marzuki told a panel held on the sidelines of the Geneva forum.

The landmark 2014 report, rejected by Pyongyang, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for crimes against humanity.

Evidence recorded over the past decade or more by U.N. investigators should be given to a new U.N. mechanism for prosecution, he said, adding: “Let us prevail in the end-game.”

Experts hope an ad hoc tribunal on North Korea may be set up someday, as China would be expected to veto any move in the U.N. Security Council to refer its ally to the ICC.

The “assassination” of Kim Jong Nam ought to be a “wake-up call”, Lee Jung-Hoon, South Korean ambassador for North Korean human rights, told the event.

“That is why I think this assassination is such a game-changer because a general audience is seeing for the first time live what kind of regime we are really dealing with,” Lee said.

“If North Korea is able to do this to the older brother of Kim, to the uncle of Kim (Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013), and all the elite purging left and right, can you imagine what life might be like if you are a prisoner in a North Korean prison camp, with over 100,000 of them?” he said.

Australian Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the 2014 inquiry, said witness statements would be used once a tribunal and prosecutor were appointed. “Accountability is the name of the game in human rights, otherwise it’s all rhetoric.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.N. says tide of refugees from South Sudan rising fast

An aerial photograph showing South Sudanese refugees at Bidi Bidi refugeeís resettlement camp near the border with South Sudan, in Yumbe district, northern Uganda December 7, 2016. REUTERS/James Akena/File Photo

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Some 1.5 million refugees have fled fighting and famine in South Sudan to neighboring countries, half of them to Uganda, and thousands more are leaving daily, the U.N. refugee agency said on Thursday.

Political rivalry between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar ignited a civil war in 2013 that has often followed ethnic lines.

The two signed a shaky peace deal in 2015, but fighting has continued and Machar fled in July after days of clashes between soldiers loyal to him and Kiir’s forces in the capital Juba. He is now in South Africa.

Charlie Yaxley, spokesman for the UNHCR in Uganda, said the agency estimated the total number of South Sudanese who have gone to neighboring countries at 1.5 million, half in Uganda.

In December there were an estimated 600,000 South Sudanese who had arrived in Uganda.

Yaxley said there were thousands of new arrivals every day. The UNHCR had planned for 300,000 this year.

“We have already in the first two months of this year received 120,00 new arrivals. If this rate of inflow continues actually that figure for 2017 will be far higher,” Yaxley said.

Refugees arriving in Uganda often say they are fleeing from ethnic violence.

“I was in Invepi … and almost every refugee I spoke to had either seen a friend or family member killed in front of their eyes,” Yaxley said, referring to the latest refugee settlement set up in Uganda.

Violence has prevented many farmers from harvesting crops and the scarcity of food has been compounded by hyperinflation, triggering famine in parts of South Sudan.

The UNHCR says the refugee crisis is the world’s third largest after Syria’s and Afghanistan’s.

(Editing by George Obulutsa and Andrew Roche)

Migrant relocation plan must be bigger and move faster according to U.N.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi meets with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the Maximos Mansion in Athens

By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) – A European Union scheme to relocate migrants and refugees from frontline countries Greece and Italy to other member states must be bigger and move faster, the U.N. refugee chief said in Athens on Wednesday.

The program, devised last year, was intended to relocate 160,000 from Greece and Italy to other European countries over two years but fewer than 4,000 people have moved so far.

Some central European member had fought the scheme, with Hungary and Slovakia challenging the decision in EU courts.

“I will certainly continue to advocate on behalf of the refugees, on behalf of the states hosting them – Italy and Greece principally – for this program to be bigger and to be accelerated,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told reporters.

“It is one example of European solidarity and cooperation that can and must work so we need to put all our energy in trying to make it work.”

Italy’s interior minister said on Tuesday that Germany had agreed to take in hundreds of migrants who are blocked in Italy.

Asked if the program could still work, Grandi said: “I hope that it will. Because in fact it must work.”

Grandi was speaking after a visit to a Syrian family from Aleppo, living in an Athens apartment under a scheme launched by the UNHCR and EU Commission.

The family of seven – a mother, two grandparents and four children – were displaced for years inside Syria before fleeing to Europe this summer. They are all relocation candidates.

“They left behind a good life to come here and to escape from the war,” said Sofia, whose family owns the apartment and who lives with her own family in the flat above, urging other Greeks to open their homes to refugees and migrants.

“We could have be in their shoes,” she said. She declined to give her family name.

The family are among more than 58,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, who have arrived in Greece since March hoping to move further north through Europe but who ended up stranded by border closures in the Balkans.

Most live in difficult, unsanitary camps across the country. Greece is also seeking new facilities to alleviate overcrowding at centres on five islands.

During his three-day visit to Athens, the second this year, Grandi said the UNHCR would keep pushing the EU for more support.

But he also underlined that efforts to end the conflict in Syria and other war-torn countries should be stepped up.

“Refugees are mostly the result of unresolved conflict and until and unless we solve those conflicts the risk of new influxes and new emergencies cannot be excluded,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Gina Kalovyrna; Editing by Alison Williams)

Economic downturn, Islamist attacks cause hunger to spread in Nigeria

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s economic slowdown, compounded by Boko Haram attacks, could mean 5.5 million people needing food aid in the volatile northeast by next month, double the current number, the United Nations warned on Friday.

As government troops advance against the militants, the somewhat better access for aid workers under military escort to Borno and Yobe states has exposed “catastrophic levels” of suffering and a “vast regional crisis”, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Inflation and soaring food prices come at a time when people have little left from the last harvest, the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said.

“Because of Nigeria’s economic downturn, the number of hungry people could double in the northeastern states that are already so heavily afflicted by the conflict,” WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told a news briefing.

“Our experts are warning it could go as high as 5.5 million people by next month,” she said. “The drop in oil prices and sharp rise in the cost of imported staples has compounded the years of violence that these poor people had to suffer.”

WFP has delivered food to 170,000 people in northeastern Nigeria, but hopes to reach 700,000 by year-end, Luescher said. It is also providing aid to 400,000 people in the three other Lake Chad Basin countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Nigerian Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said on Thursday that the OPEC country’s crude output had fallen to 1.56 million barrels per day (bpd) as persistent militant attacks have taken out around 700,000 bpd.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in late July that severely malnourished children are dying in large numbers in northeast Nigeria, the former stronghold of Boko Haram militants where food supplies are close to running out. The aid agency warned of “pockets of what is close to a famine”.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said on Friday the situation remains dangerous and volatile, following an attack on an aid convoy last month. “There have been frequent ‘hit and run’ incidents by militants, including suicide bombings, attacks on civilians, torching of homes, and thefts of livestock.”

Armored vehicles and military escorts are urgently needed to provide protection for aid workers, he said.

“We have seen adults so exhausted they are unable to move, and children with swollen faces and hollow eyes and other clear indications of acute malnutrition,” Edwards said.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

China urges U.N. ‘back draft resolution on poison gas’

Women, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, receive treatment inside a makeshift hospital in Kfar Zeita village in Hama

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Thursday urged U.N. Security Council members to back a draft resolution demanding states report when militants are developing chemical weapons in Syria.

Some diplomats have dismissed the proposed resolution as a bid to distract from accusations the Syrian government uses such weapons.

Russia and China circulated a draft resolution to the 15-member body on Wednesday, which Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said could serve as a deterrent to “terrorist” groups such as Islamic State from using chemical weapons.

Islamic State militants are believed to be responsible for sulfur mustard gas attacks in Syria and Iraq last year, the United States has said. Russia has also said it sees a high probability that Islamic State is using chemical weapons.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called on “all relevant parties to strengthen coordination, cooperate and jointly oppose and punish any party’s move to use chemical weapons”.

“We also hope all parties on the Security Council can support this Russia-China draft resolution,” Lu told reporters at a regular press briefing.

“We resolutely oppose anyone, for whatever purpose, under any circumstances, using chemical weapons,” Lu said.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded in a confidential report that at least two people were exposed to sulfur mustard in Marea, north of Aleppo, in August.

The draft resolution, seen by Reuters, would demand that states, particularly those neighboring Syria, “immediately report any actions by non-State actors to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer, or use chemical weapons and their means of delivery to the Security Council”.

Some council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the draft resolution was a ploy by Russia to divert attention from allegations that the Syrian government continued to use chemical weapons. Churkin denied it was a distraction.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal broker by Moscow and Washington, but the OPCW has since found chlorine has been “systematically and repeatedly” used as a weapon. Government and opposition forces have denied using chlorine.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; editing by Robert Birsel)