North Korea

Australia says N Korea seeking to re-open embassy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 12:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 2:37pm

North Korea is seeking to re-open its embassy in Australia, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on Wednesday, adding he would welcome the move because it could focus attention on “catastrophic” rights abuses.

The approach from Pyongyang, which closed its Canberra mission in 2008, comes after North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un urged a “radical turnabout” in the impoverished country’s economy.

“The North Koreans are seeking to reopen the embassy,” Carr said.

“We would welcome the opening of an embassy. It would enable us to express our very strong concerns, our deep concerns, about what we see as a catastrophic position on human rights within North Korea.”

Carr said the question of why the isolated state wanted to reopen the embassy, which at the time Australian officials said was closed due to financial constraints, would have to be put to the North Koreans.

Kim Jong-un, who took power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il just over a year ago, has triggered speculation he is set to implement economic reforms.

In a New Year’s address he said this year will be a year of “great creations and changes in which a radical turnabout will be effected,” adding that “the building of an economic giant is the most important task” facing the country.

Australia has had sanctions in place against North Korea in response to its missile and nuclear tests and Carr has recently been critical of human rights violations in the reclusive state.

He said on Wednesday there was “a gulag and a network of concentration camps” for political opponents of the North Korean regime which he said was estimated to hold 200,000 prisoners in conditions dominated by starvation and execution.

“A North Korean embassy in Canberra would enable us to register our deep and strong concerns about the human rights crisis in North Korea, which is probably the most systemic abuse of human rights abuse you could find on the face of the planet,” he said.

Australia and North Korea agreed to establish diplomatic relations in July 1974 and Pyongyang’s embassy opened in Canberra in December of that year, while the Australian mission opened in North Korea in 1975.

However, Pyongyang withdrew its embassy and expelled the Australians six months later without explanation and it took until 2000 for diplomatic relations to be restored.

North Korea re-opened its Canberra embassy in May 2002.