UN experts, Britain demand release of Reuters reporters in Myanmar

Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo is escorted by police before a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar. (Reuters)
Updated 13 April 2018
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UN experts, Britain demand release of Reuters reporters in Myanmar

  • Boris Johnson: Myanmar must show its 'commitment to media freedom'
  • A court in Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings since January

LONDON/GENEVA Britain’s foreign minister and United Nations human rights rapporteurs separately called on Thursday for the release of two Reuters reporters detained in Myanmar, after a judge rejected a request for their case to be dismissed.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Twitter that Myanmar must show its “commitment to media freedom” while the UN special rapporteurs said in a joint statement that the pursuit of the case against Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, gave rise to “grave concern for investigative journalism.”
A Myanmar government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
A court in Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings since January to decide whether the journalists will be charged for possessing secret government papers under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
Judge Ye Lwin rejected on Wednesday a defense request to dismiss the case against the two reporters, who have been held since December, for lack of evidence. The judge said he wanted to hear the eight remaining prosecution witnesses out of the 25 listed, according to defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw.
On Tuesday, seven Myanmar soldiers were sentenced to 10 years “with hard labor in a remote area” for participating in a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in northwestern Rakhine state last September, the army said.
Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, and David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, noted the journalists could be sentenced to longer terms if found guilty.
“The perpetrators of a massacre that was, in part, the subject of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting have been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. And yet these two reporters face a possible 14 years imprisonment. The absurdity of this trial and the wrongfulness of their detention and prosecution are clear,” they said in a joint statement.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN.
The country’s ambassador to the UN, Hau Do Suan, said last month that the journalists were not arrested for reporting a story, but were accused of “illegally possessing confidential government documents.”

ARMY CRACKDOWN
An army crackdown, unleashed in response to Rohingya militant attacks on security forces in August, has been beset by allegations of murder, rape, arson and looting. The UN and United States described it as ethnic cleansing — an accusation which Myanmar denies.
Nearly 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Rakhine state and crossed into southern Bangladesh since then.
After the UN experts made their comments, Johnson took to Twitter on the case. “Very disappointed to hear Burmese @Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are now to face trial,” he said. “Reiterate my calls for their release: Burmese authorities must show their commitment to media freedom.”
At this stage the prosecutor is trying to persuade the court to file charges. The preliminary proceedings are still underway and only after they are completed is the court expected to decide whether to send the two reporters to trial.


Moon says Kim agreed to allow nuke inspections

In this image made from video provided by Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pose after signing documents in Pyongyang, North Korea Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. (AP)
Updated 19 September 2018
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Moon says Kim agreed to allow nuke inspections

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have started their second day of summit talks in Pyongyang over the nuclear standoff and other inter-Korean issues
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has greeted South Korean President Moon Jae-in upon his arrival in Pyongyang for their third summit this year to improve ties and help resolve the nuclear standoff

SEOUL: North Korea has agreed to “permanently” abolish its key missile facilities in the presence of foreign experts, and is willing to close its main nuclear complex if the United States takes reciprocal action, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a joint news conference following their summit talks in Pyongyang, Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said they agreed to turn the Korean peninsula into a “land of peace without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats.”
Kim said he will visit Seoul in the near future, in what would be the first-ever visit to the South’s capital by a North Korean leader.
The latest summit will be a litmus test for stalled negotiations on the North’s nuclear program between Pyongyang and Washington, and for another meeting Kim recently proposed to US President Donald Trump following their historic encounter in June in Singapore.
Moon was seeking to engineer a proposal that combines a framework for the North’s denuclearization and a joint declaration ending the 1950-53 Korean War.
Kim pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” during his first encounter with Moon, and at his summit with Trump in June.
But discussions over how to implement the vague commitments have since faltered, with Washington demanding concrete action toward denuclearization by North Korea before agreeing to a key goal of Pyongyang — declaring an end to the war.
North Korea has given no indication it is willing to give up its nuclear arsenal unilaterally and is seeking relief from crippling international sanctions.
North Korea has offered to stop nuclear and missile tests but did not allowed international inspections for a dismantlemnt of its only known nuclear site in May, drawing criticism that its action could not be verified and could be easily reversed.

ART TOUR
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing on Tuesday that Washington hoped the latest inter-Korean summit would bring about “meaningful, verifiable steps toward the denuclearization of North Korea” and called it a “historic opportunity” for Kim to follow through on commitments he made with Trump.
Later on Wednesday, Moon’s delegation will tour the Mansudae Art Studio, the North’s largest producer of art where state artists build statues and produce propaganda at a sprawling complex in Pyongyang.
The institution was sanctioned by the UN Security Council last year as part of global efforts to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs by drying up its revenue sources.
Moon is also scheduled to watch the North’s signature “Brilliant Fatherland” Mass Game which was reintroduced this year following a five-year hiatus, with a formation of glowing drones, lasers and stadium-sized gymnastics shows designed to glorify the country.
The United States is pressing countries to strictly observe international sanctions, which will likely be a key theme when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosts a Security Council meeting on North Korea on Sept. 27 on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly.

“NEW ERA“
This week’s summit is intended to craft concrete steps to implement the Panmunjom Declaration, named after the border village where they first met, Seoul officials said.
The two Koreas also adopted a separate military accord aimed at preventing armed clashes between the old foes, which are technically still at war because the Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
The neighbors have already agreed to withdraw some guard posts and equipment, in a bid to transform the world’s most heavily fortified border into a no-weapons area.
Pyongyang says it has destroyed its main nuclear and missile engine test site, and has halted atomic and ballistic missile tests, but US officials and analysts believe it is continuing to work on its weapons plans clandestinely.
South Korea is pinning high hopes on Kim’s remarks to Moon’s special envoys earlier this month that he wanted to achieve denuclearization within Trump’s first term in office ending in early 2021. Kim at the same time also stressed Washington must reciprocate his initial “goodwill” gestures.
“While Moon has expressed his desire to agree on a concrete plan on denuclearization, we believe that the two nations still differ on this concept,” said Anwita Basu, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
In previous, failed talks, North Korea has said it could consider giving up its nuclear program if the United States provided security guarantees by removing troops from South Korea and withdrawing its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from the South and Japan.
US officials involved in the latest negotiations have said North Korea has refused to even start discussions about defining denuclearization. (Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee and Soyoung Kim; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Lincoln Feast.)