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(2nd LD) U.S. envoy to United Nations visits N.K. defector support center, Panmunjom

All Headlines 19:30 October 09, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS new info about Power's talks with S. Korean PM in paras 12-15)

SEOUL, Oct. 9 (Yonhap) -- The United States ambassador to the United Nations visited a settlement support center for North Korean defectors on Sunday, official sources said.

Samantha Power, who arrived in Seoul the day before, toured the Hanawon center in Anseong some 77 kilometers south of the South Korean capital and held talks with North Koreans who fled the reclusive country.

Authorities said she took part in a prayer session with some of the defectors who are receiving training so they can assimilate into their new lives in the South.

Government insiders said the trip reflects Washington's drive to make an issue of the North's deplorable human rights abuses that could lead to the matter being linked to additional sanctions down the road. Currently talks are underway at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to penalize the North following its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9.

On arrival on Saturday the ambassador said she wanted to directly hear the plight of those that have fled the North, and based on what she learned, go back to New York to negotiate fresh sanctions with other countries.

She had said it is deplorable that the North Korean regime threatens and abuses its people.

"The world has done a much better job in shining the spotlight on those crimes in recent years and I am here also to meet people who have suffered under the North Korean regime's rule," she said after her arrival.

"We also seek to shine the world spotlight on the worst crimes with really no parallel in this world," she added.

Besides going to Hanawon, Powers toured the truce village of Panmunjom on the inter-Korean border. The trip aimed to send a strong message of Washington's resolve to counter all North Korean threats.

She met with Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal, Commanding General of Eighth Army, had lunch with troops and inspected various facilities including the conference building of the Military Armistice Commission.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (C) at the truce village of Panmunjom on Oct. 9, 2016. (Yonhap)

Powers then met with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and pointed out that 2016 saw the North breaking numerous international laws and that its actions are becoming more threatening. She said that while the UNSC resolution passed in March reflected many of Seoul's ideas, sanctions so far have not been able to curb the North's provocations.

Hwang highlighted the need to elicit "strong and comprehensive" international responses to the North's latest nuclear provocation, saying these responses should be at a level "beyond Pyongyang's expectations."

Hwang also said that even after its fifth nuclear test, the North has been "explicitly" threatening the South, the U.S. and the international community with a series of verbal threats, including one to bolster its nuclear forces.

Touching on the North's abysmal human rights record, Hwang said that it is an "urgent" humanitarian issue that can no longer be postponed.

Power, in response, said that Seoul and Washington, along with the United Nations, will strengthen cooperation in improving the rights situation in the impoverished state, according to Hwang's office.

Her remarks with Hwang following the envoy urging North Korea upon her arrival in the country to stop any further nuclear provocations, stressing that the world will "not be intimidated" by any actions taken by the Kim Jong-un regime.

"Now we are looking to see what more can be done because, of course, another test was carried out at the beginning of September," she had said. "This must stop. We are not intimidated by the actions of the government of North Korea."

Power's visit, meanwhile, takes place amid growing concerns that Pyongyang could carry out yet another major military provocation to mark the anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers' Party and the 10th anniversary of its first nuclear test.

Seoul said that Powers is expected to meet Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo on Monday to discuss what actions can be taken against the North, and may hold talks with senior officials from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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