S. Korea Backs UN Resolution Against Neighbor

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea will vote in favor of a U.N. resolution expressing concerns about human rights in North Korea, a senior official said Wednesday, a move that could anger the communist country amid a deadlock in international nuclear talks.

The decision by the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who took office last month, marks a change from policies during the past decade of liberal governments, which were reluctant to publicly criticize North Korea. Lee has promised a tougher stance in dealing with South Korea's isolated, impoverished neighbor.

South Korea "will vote for the resolution" at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, the senior official from the Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press. He asked not to be named because he did not want to comment publicly before the vote takes place later this week.

Since 2003, South Korea has only once voted for a U.N. resolution on North Korean human rights - after the North's nuclear test in October 2006. In other votes, South Korea either abstained or stayed away out of concern its criticism might hurt ties and efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

International advocacy groups say North Korea is among the world's worst abusers of human rights. It has been accused, among other things, of running a network of prison camps believed to house some 200,000 political detainees.

"I believe the North Korean people should get to a point where they can enjoy the minimum basic happiness of human beings," Lee said in a meeting with Unification Ministry officials, according to South Korean pool reports. He did not directly mention the U.N. vote.

North Korea's government rejects criticism of its rights record, denouncing it as part of a U.S. attempt to overthrow the regime, which has yet to satisfy Washington's demand for a full accounting of its nuclear programs. The country will likely react angrily to Seoul's latest move.

According to a copy of the draft resolution obtained by the AP, the U.N. Human Rights Council would say it is "deeply concerned at the continuing reports of systematic, widespread and grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights" in North Korea.

The resolution also calls for a one-year extension of the mandate of Vitit Muntarbhorn, the U.N. special rapporteur on North Korean human rights. The envoy has been tasked with investigating the human rights situation in North Korea, but has never been allowed to visit.

Also on Wednesday, Lee renewed his calls on North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons programs, saying it was a necessary step for its government to stabilize and its economy to prosper.

Separately, the nominee to head South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Kim Tae-young, said during a parliamentary hearing that North Korea has enough plutonium to build six to seven nuclear weapons. However, he said there was no confirmation they had produced the bombs.

The two Koreas have remained technically at war since 1953, when the three-year Korean War ended with an armistice that has never been replaced by a peace treaty.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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