Carter and 3 more 'elders' going to Pyongyang

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Four members of the Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders, will visit North Korea this month to discuss tension between the two Koreas as well as the North’s food crisis, which was recently reported by the United Nations.

“The Elders are concerned about the high level of tension on the Korean Peninsula as well as reports of imminent food shortages in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the group said in an online statement on Saturday local time. “A small group of Elders is considering a visit to the region at the end of April to discuss with officials and others how these issues may be addressed. Their plans are not finalized and no further information is available at this stage.”

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who is an Elder, will be accompanied by three others on a three-day trip to North Korea on April 26.

According to diplomatic sources in South Korea, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Irish President Mary Robinson and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland will accompany Carter.

Ahtisaari won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his work in international peacemaking and conflict resolution. He also founded the Crisis Management Initiative in 2000, an NGO that helps the international community practice more effective preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and post-conflict state building.

Robinson was Ireland’s first woman president and is a well-known advocate of human rights. She served as a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002.

Brundtland was also her country’s first woman prime minister when she took the post in 1981. She is also a medical doctor and served as director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) for five years from 1998 until her retirement in 2003.

Diplomatic sources in Seoul believe that the four will be able to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, a meeting that was denied Carter during his previous trip to Pyongyang last August. Carter was in Pyongyang then to request the freedom of activist Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had crossed into the North from China, and was captured and jailed for seven months. Carter was forced to leave without meeting North Korea’s leader, who was busy on a trip to meet leaders in China.

The four are likely to address the lack of human rights in North Korea as well, which the U.S. government condemned on Friday after issuing the State Department’s 2010 Annual Report on Human Rights. Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, described the human rights situation in North Korea as “grim, grim, grim.”

Posner also told reporters that the U.S. has not made much progress in regard to updating North Korea’s human rights information due to limited diplomatic ties and information.

The group is expected to stop in Seoul on April 29 after their North Korea visit to inform South Korean authorities about the outcome of their trip, sources said. The State Department said last month that Carter was not carrying an official message from the U.S. government.

The Elders group was the brainchild of the Virgin Group’s Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel and began its work in 2007 under the leadership of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.

By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

JoongAng Daily
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