Seoul, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) - As North Korea prepares for a massive parade Sunday featuring thousands of goose-stepping soldiers and lots of scary-looking missiles, some potentially capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, worry is rising in South Korea that a tentative, hard-won detente is starting to slip away.
An authoritarian nation obsessed with big milestones, North Korea will use the celebration for the 70th anniversary of its national founding to glorify Kim Jong Un as a leader who's standing up for a powerful nation surrounded by enemies.
Kim will also welcome a delegate from his most important ally, senior Chinese official Li Zhanshu, the third-ranking official of the country's ruling party and head of its rubberstamp parliament, whose presence at the parade would underscore Beijing's important status in international efforts to solve the nuclear crisis.
That's a role South Korean President Moon Jae-in covets, and one of several reasons why the pressure will be intense when he travels to North Korea later this month to meet with Kim.
Moon, who previously held summits with Kim in April and May, will arrive in Pyongyang with dual goals: speeding up inter-Korean engagement and breaking an impasse in nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States.
It won't be easy.
The current stalemate between Washington and Pyongyang has raised fundamental questions about Kim's supposed willingness to abandon his nukes, questions that were initially brushed aside amid the soaring, and so far largely empty, rhetoric surrounding a June summit between Kim and President Donald Trump that saw very little substance in its wake.
If Moon fails at his upcoming meeting with Kim, he may face a serious political dilemma: whether to continue to engage the North or join another U.S.-led high-pressure campaign against Pyongyang.
"It's worth the gamble for Moon to make bold demands to try to get North Korea back on track in nuclear negotiations with the United States, but current signs indicate the North won't budge," said Choi Kang, vice president of Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
ENDING THE WAR
Declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which was stopped with an armistice that left the Korean Peninsula still technically at war, has been a major point of contention between Washington and Pyongyang and will almost certainly be discussed by Moon and Kim during their summit.
Amid faltering negotiations, North Korea has accused the United States of making "unilateral and gangster-like" demands on denuclearization and delaying a declaration on formally ending the war. There were also complaints about "persistent" sanctions by "hostile forces."
Trump responded by calling off Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's planned trip to North Korea last week, citing insufficient progress on denuclearization. Seoul expressed regret and urged Washington to commit to continued diplomacy.
Suh Hoon, Moon's spy chief, told lawmakers recently that Pompeo's visit collapsed mainly because North Korea demanded that the United States sign an end-of-war declaration up front, while Washington insisted that the North first hand over a list detailing the components of its nuclear program.
North Korea, which calls for a "phased and synchronized" process in which every action it takes is met with a reciprocal reward from the United States, claims it has already taken serious steps toward denuclearization, including its unilateral dismantlement of a nuclear testing ground and a missile engine test facility.
By denying a peace declaration, Pyongyang says the United States is refusing a corresponding measure that would build trust and move the process forward.
U.S. officials maintain that such a declaration cannot come before the North takes more concrete steps toward relinquishing its nukes in a verifiable way. None of North Korea's actions so far have been verified by outsiders or seen as realistically reducing the country's nuclear and missile capability.
The American stance could cause a split with Moon's government, which also wants a quick end-of-war declaration, possibly at the U.N. General Assembly in September.
Moon's critics say he puts too much faith in North Korea. The North has never provided a full account of its fast-growing nuclear and missile program and seemingly has an endless number of cards to play in the "phased and synchronized" game — like dismantling a missile engine test site or removing a launch pad — before it ever has to take concrete steps on denuclearization.
Once a peace declaration is made, Washington and Seoul could struggle to find other points of leverage. Washington is unlikely to provide sanctions relief, diplomatic recognition or the reduction of U.S. forces in South Korea unless North Korea takes major steps on denuclearization. The North, meanwhile, could easily find excuses to drag out the process or even discard it.
North Korea's obsession with an end-of-war declaration may also indicate that it seeks to turn the talks with the United States into an arms reduction negotiation between two nuclear states, rather than a process to surrender its nukes.
ENGAGEMENT OR PRESSURE?
Moon is also running out of goodwill gestures toward North Korea, which has expressed frustration about the slow pace in cooperative projects with the South that it hopes will bring it economic benefits.
The Koreas have staged emotional reunions between aging relatives separated by the war, fielded combined teams in sports competitions and held military talks to ease border tensions. But Moon's more ambitious ideas, such as joint economic projects and reconnecting cross-border railways, are held back by international sanctions against Pyongyang.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said recently that Seoul has yet to gain Washington's full endorsement to open a liaison office in a North Korean border town, which some say could violate existing sanctions.
Moon's nightmare may be a return to 2017, when animosity created by the North's barrage of nuclear and missile tests and Trump's responding belligerent tweets raised war fears among South Koreans.
Moon's approval rating, although still above 50 percent, has declined sharply in recent months over a decaying job market. He can't afford a setback on inter-Korean relations, his strongest issue.
South Korean officials say their diplomatic approach will work in tandem with sanctions and pressure until the North takes genuine denuclearization steps.
But in a recent speech, Moon seemed to argue that inter-Korean activities should take the lead.
"The advancement in inter-Korean relations is the driving force behind the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Moon said. "When inter-Korean relations were good in the past, North Korea's nuclear threat eased."
The Pyongyang summit could reveal whether Moon is ready to push ahead with more engagement with the North despite U.S. frustration over North Korea.
"Denuclearizing North Korea is a process that will take 10 or 20 years, and there are only two ways to do it: either eliminate all the nuclear weapons and missiles or eliminate any reason and intent for the North to push the button," said Bong Young-shik, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Yonsei University. "The Moon government is primarily focused on the second way."
Lima, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Some 300 Venezuelans gathered outside of their country's embassy in Peru on Tuesday shouting "We want to leave!" after President Nicolas Maduro offered to airlift migrants who wanted to return back to their homeland.
The Venezuelans, some of whom said they had been sleeping on the streets and were taken advantage of by Peruvian employers, arrived hours after Maduro on national TV unveiled the "Return to the Homeland Plan" to welcome back those who marched abroad amid the spiraling economic and social crisis.
It also comes as regional governments are rushing to address the exodus straining tight budgets in almost every South American nation, with a special session Wednesday at the Organization of American States in Washington.
According to the United Nations, more than 2.3 million people, 7 percent of Venezuela's total population, have fled the country over the last three years during a period of widespread shortages, deadly anti-government protests and now hyperinflation the International Monetary Fund estimates will hit 1 million percent.
But Venezuela's government disputes those figures, and is accusing opponents led by the U.S. of sounding an alarm about a humanitarian crisis to justify a foreign military intervention to remove Maduro.
"I sometimes feel pain for the Venezuelans who left," he said on state TV Monday, saying that fewer than 600,000 Venezuelans left the country over the past two years and that 90 percent regret the decision. "We will hug you again, come to Venezuela, come back to the homeland. We Venezuelans are here, with our big, big Bolivian hearts."
Last week, Maduro's government chartered a plane to bring almost 100 Venezuelans from Lima that he said had their dreams of a fresh start crushed by the crude realities of living in a high-priced capitalist country. Another airlift is schedule to leave Ecuador on Wednesday, while a second planeload of Venezuelans from Peru is being organized for Saturday.
Some government opponents have called the airlifts a PR stunt intended to deflect attention away from the economic mismanagement that has driven so many people from their homes in the first place.
Those lining up outside Venezuelan embassy in Peru's capital were careful not to criticize Maduro — many acknowledged voting for him in the past — and spoke of enduring hardships and discrimination while trying to adjust to life in a new country.
Armando Salazar, 50, said that he was earning around $90 a week cleaning floors at a fish processing plant since arriving to Peru in January from his home in central Carabobo state. But last month he was let go and had to resort to peddling bottles of water on Lima's streets while sharing a tenement bedroom with five of his countrymen who were in similar straights.
"Things are difficult here too," said Salazar, who said that once back in Venezuela he hopes to recoup a business he abandoned selling fruit.
He said the future he faces in Venezuela remains uncertain but at least back home he'll be surrounded by family, including his wife, who didn't make the journey with him across South America.
Inflation that the International Monetary Fund estimates will soon hit 1 million percent is expected to accelerate after Maduro last month began dismantling currency controls in place for more than a decade.
On Tuesday, the government began rolling out a new payment system to raise gas prices in eight border states. The goal is to raise prices nationwide to international levels by October so they government can boost badly-needed revenue to pay its mounting debts. Right now filling up a tank is virtually free.
It's the first major increase in gas prices since Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution began two decades ago and authorities in the OPEC nation are taking a slow approach amid fears it could ignite unrest like past price hikes. To soften the impact, drivers holding a government-issued Fatherland Card will be returned part of the payment in the form of a cash subsidy.
But despite long lines, many gas stations in Tachira state with neighboring Colombia were closed Tuesday, or had yet to raise prices. The new biometric machines to collect payments that the head of the state oil company displayed on state television a day earlier were either nowhere to be found or not working.
On Tuesday, officials from 11 countries in the region issued a statement expressing concern for the "the grave deterioration in the internal situation that has provoked the mass migration of Venezuelans."
Dhaka, Sept 5 (UNB) - Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has urged the Myanmar government to provide basic human rights to two Reuters journalists including the right to appeal and to consult their lawyers.
The Commission also urged the Myanmar government to seriously consider all aspects in the larger interest of the country, according Myanmar Ministry of Information.
There have been serious criticisms and comments both domestically and internationally, the Commission said in a statement on convictions of Reuter reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
The statement said it is now learnt that the two of them have been sentenced to seven years imprisonment by Yangon Northern District Court.
According to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Law, the Commission has no particular comment on the sentencing of the two journalists.
Manila, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — A Philippine senator who is President Rodrigo Duterte's fiercest critic in Congress remained holed up in the Senate on Wednesday to avoid what he considers an illegal arrest after Duterte voided his amnesty for his role as a rebel military officer.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV told reporters after staying overnight in the Senate that his lawyers would file a petition to the Supreme Court to challenge the legality of Duterte's proclamation voiding his amnesty for taking part in failed coup attempts years ago.
Duterte also ordered the Department of Justice and the military to pursue criminal and administrative complaints against Trillanes, a former navy officer.
Trillanes told the police and military not to follow Duterte's "illegal order" for him to be arrested without a court warrant, saying his rebellion and coup cases were dismissed in 2011 without being questioned by the government after he availed of an amnesty offered by Duterte's predecessor.
Addressing military and police officers who may be pressured to enforce Duterte's order out of fear, Trillanes said "Duterte will not be there for long, please do not do anything illegal or unconstitutional."
Duterte's order, which was made public Tuesday while he was on a trip to Israel, has sparked a legal debate. Some legal experts have questioned whether Duterte can invalidate a rebel amnesty declared by a previous president and approved by legislators.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told a news conference Tuesday that Duterte voided Trillanes' amnesty because the senator had failed to comply with all of its requirements, including a clear admission of his involvement in past coup attempts.
Trillanes cannot invoke his congressional immunity from arrest because the crimes he allegedly committed, including rebellion, were serious and punishable by life imprisonment, Guevarra said.
During a televised Senate session, however, Trillanes showed video footage and news reports denying Duterte's basis for voiding his amnesty. The news reports showed an image of his amnesty application, which officials said they could not find, and carried remarks by Trillanes acknowledging his participation in the uprisings.
"That presidential declaration should alarm the justices of the Supreme Court because Duterte there exercises executive, legislative and judicial powers," Trillanes said. "If they affirm the presidential declaration, the president can issue warrants of arrest."
Despite questions on Duterte's move, military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said Trillanes "will be reverted to his status as active military personnel subject to military law and military discipline." A military court may be reconstituted to try Trillanes after his amnesty was voided, Arevalo told reporters.
The 47-year-old former navy officer was detained for several years before his election to the Senate for involvement in three military uprisings from 2003 to 2007 to protest government corruption.
Duterte has openly expressed anger against Trillanes, who has accused him of large-scale corruption and involvement in illegal drugs. The volatile president has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Aside from Trillanes, another opposition senator, Leila de Lima, has been detained after being accused by Duterte of involvement in illegal drugs, a crime she has vehemently denied. A former human rights commission chief, de Lima investigated Duterte's alleged role in extrajudicial killings in a yearslong anti-drug crackdown when he served as mayor of southern Davao city for years.
Another Duterte critic, Maria Lourdes Sereno, was ousted by fellow justices from the Supreme Court in May after the government alleged that her appointment by Duterte's predecessor was legally flawed and petitioned for her removal.
Nairobi, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Former world half marathon champion Paul Koech of Kenya has died. He was 49.
The Kenyan track and field federation confirmed Koech's death on Wednesday. He died on Monday but no cause of death was given, with the federation saying it came after a short illness.
Koech's finest hour came when he won gold at the world half marathon championships in Zurich in 1998. He finished sixth in the 10,000-meters at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and fourth at the world championships the following year.
Koech was a contemporary of the Kenyan great Paul Tergat and finished second when Tergat broke the 10,000-meter world record in 1997. That race made Koech the third-fastest 10,000-meter runner in history at the time.
Koech was a co-opted member of the Athletics Kenya executive committee at the time of his death.