UN split over looming 'disaster’ on Korean peninsula
Published 20/12/2010 | 16:36
The United Nations Security Council appeared split along East-West lines last night in how best to defuse the latest stand-off between North and South Korea.
The conflict has escalated over South Korea’s plans for live-fire artillery drills. The North has warned of a “disaster” if the South carries out the drills, which are due to take place on Yeonpyeong, the island shelled by the North last month in attacks that killed four people.
South Korean officials announced that the artillery exercise, postponed yesterday because of bad weather, would go ahead today with the support of 20 US troops. The North accused Seoul of deploying the Americans as a “human shield” to guard against attack.
Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and a special US envoy to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, said the world was facing “a crisis situation”. Unconfirmed reports from South Korean state media said that the North had raised its military readiness along the west coast.
About 240 residents, officials and journalists remained on Yeonpyeong yesterday. Last night South Korean marines ordered residents to move to air raid bunkers in anticipation of the drill. South Korean marines carrying rifles conducted routine patrols as maritime surveillance aircraft flew overhead.
A draft UN statement proposed by Russia, which requested the emergency meeting, called for “maximum restraint” on both sides and stressed the need “to ensure a de-escalation of tension”. It said all disputes must be settled “exclusively through peaceful diplomatic means” and requested that Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, immediately send an envoy to the area.
But Britain, America and France were determined to publicly condemn North Korea’s contribution to the crisis. A British draft said the council “deplored” Pyongyang’s actions and ordered it to “act with restraint”. The draft encountered staunch resistance from the Russians and China — North Korea’s closest ally.
America has rejected Chinese and Russian calls to return to talks with Pyongyang, saying it refuses to reward North Korean belligerence.
America has, however, opened some back-channel dialogue with the North. Mr Richardson visited Pyongyang to urge senior leaders to show “maximum restraint” over the South’s military exercise.
Further complicating diplomatic relations in the region, South Korea detained eight Chinese fishermen over the weekend after their boat collided with a patrol ship.