- Nations close to deal on UN arms trade treaty - envoys
- Despite threats, North Korea keeps border factories open
- Former Chilean leader Bachelet seeking presidential comeback
Posted: 27 Mar 2013 09:10 PM PDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations members on Wednesday were close to a deal on the first international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global conventional arms trade, though delegates and rights groups said India, Iran or others could still block agreement.
Arms control campaigners and human rights groups say one person dies every minute worldwide as a result of armed violence and a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunition they say fuels wars, atrocities and rights abuses.
United Nations member states began meeting last week in a final push to end years of discussions and hammer out a binding international treaty to end the lack of regulation over cross-border conventional arms sales.
The world body's 193 member states received the last revision of the draft treaty ahead of the final day of the drafting conference on Thursday. Reuters questioned delegates from over a dozen countries who said they were cautiously optimistic that the treaty would be adopted unanimously.
"India, Syria and Iran are countries that could still cause trouble," a European diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "But I'll wager the treaty will pass by consensus."
Iran, which is under a U.N. arms embargo over its nuclear program, is eager to ensure its arms imports and exports are not curtailed, diplomats say. Syria is in a two-year-old civil war and hopes Russian and Iranian arms keep flowing in, they added.
But they are under pressure to back the draft, envoys said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S. official declined to say whether Washington would support the draft treaty.
"We are continuing to review the text with an eye toward ensuring that it accomplishes all of our goals, including that it protect the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade and, of course, that it not infringe upon the constitutional right of our citizens to bear arms," he said.
Several U.N. diplomats predicted Washington would vote yes.
The National Rifle Association, a powerful U.S. pro-gun lobbying group, opposes the treaty and has vowed to fight to prevent its ratification if it reaches Washington. The NRA says the treaty would undermine domestic gun-ownership rights.
The American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobby group, has said that the treaty would not impact the right to bear arms.
Other major arms producers like Russia and China, which had initially resisted the treaty, along with Germany, France and Britain were also expected to support the draft, diplomats said.
The chief British delegate, Ambassador Joanne Adamson, said the new draft treaty has many improvements over earlier drafts.
"These (improvements) include inclusion of ammunition in the scope of the treaty, a new article on preventing diversion of arms, and strengthened section on exports which are prohibited," she said. "Human rights are at the heart of this text."
The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all is that the United States - the world's biggest arms exporter - reversed U.S. policy on the issue after President Barack Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support an arms treaty.
The point of an arms trade treaty is to set standards for all cross-border transfers of conventional weapons. It would also create binding requirements for states to review all cross-border arms contracts to ensure arms will not be used in human rights abuses, terrorism or violations of humanitarian law.
Several human rights groups and arms control advocates, including Amnesty International, Oxfam and Control Arms, praised the new draft. They said it had shortcomings, but was a major improvement over an earlier draft that had too many loopholes.
"While there are still deficiencies in this final draft, this treaty has the potential to provide significant human rights protection and curb armed conflict and violence if all governments demonstrate the political will to implement it," Brian Wood of Amnesty International said.
But he made clear that there were problems with the text, including an overly narrow scope of types of arms covered. It covers tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light arms.
Predator drones and grenades are among the weapon categories that are not covered explicitly in the draft treaty.
Anna Macdonald of Oxfam said there were "some improvements" in the draft, though some problems remained that she wanted fixed in the final hours before a decision is made by U.N. member states.
"We need a treaty that will make a difference to the lives of the people living in Congo, Mali, Syria and elsewhere who suffer each day from the impacts of armed violence," she said.
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, predicted that "over time, the treaty will help tip the scales in favour of human rights and human security when states consider arms sales in the future."
Rights groups complained about one possible loophole in the current draft involving defence cooperation agreements. Several diplomats who also oppose this loophole said it could exempt certain weapons transfers from the treaty.
Three delegates dubbed that provision the "India clause," because it was something India pushed hard for, they said.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 27 Mar 2013 08:16 PM PDT
PAJU, South Korea (Reuters) - A heavily armed border crossing between North and South Korea that allows the North access to $2 billion (1 billion pounds) in trade a year, one of its few avenues to foreign currency, remained open on Thursday despite Pyongyang's move to cut communications.
North Korea on Wednesday severed the last of three telephone hotlines with South Korea as it readied its troops to face what it believes to be "hostile" action from Seoul and Washington. The phone line is used to regulate access to the Kaesong industrial park on the North Korean side of the border as well as for military communications with the South.
Nearly 200 South Koreans and 166 vehicles carrying oil and materials drove into the park just inside the North early on Thursday after North Korean authorities used a separate phone line from the park's management office to allow access, South Korean officials said.
The North has already cut a direct hotline to U.S. military forces stationed in South Korea and a Red Cross line that had been used by the governments on both sides.
Severing hotlines is one of the least threatening but symbolic things Pyongyang can do to raise tensions and at the same time pressure Seoul and Washington to restart dialogue, said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
North Korea periodically cuts the lines. Its latest moves follow U.N. sanctions imposed for its February 12 nuclear test and routine drills by South Korean and U.S. forces. Pyongyang has also scrapped an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
"What else can they do? Actually start a war?" said Yang.
"Not answering the phone and saying the armistice is not valid any more, that's what they can do and they've done this before."
NORTH STILL ACCEPTING US DOLLARS
Workers and traders crossing the world's most heavily militarised border made sure they had U.S. dollar bills for the trip, some borrowing from a co-worker so they had enough of the zone's officially accepted currency.
Pyongyang's rhetoric against Washington including a vow to attack its military bases in the Pacific and to stage a nuclear strike has not yet extended to its willingness to accept dollars, which South Koreans said they had to use to buy cigarettes and other goods in the zone.
"I am a bit nervous but it looked the same as before when I went in there yesterday," truck driver Park Chul-hee, 44, told Reuters outside the Paju customs office. North Korean soldiers in and around Kaesong had been wearing combat fatigues recently, he added.
The North-South military hotline was used on a daily basis to process South Koreans and vehicles across the border and in and out of the Kaesong project, where 123 South Korean firms employ more than 50,000 North Koreans to make household goods.
About 120 South Koreans remain in the park on an average day. The presence of South Koreans at Kaesong poses a potentially serious political risk for Seoul given they could be trapped if Pyongyang sealed the border.
The first of the 511 people and 398 vehicles who were scheduled to return from the zone on Thursday began crossing the border into the South, indicating the crossing was operating normally in both directions.
"I think the third nuclear test is the last tipping point. I was worried so I came out," said one South Korean who has been running a factory in Kaesong for six years and who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Few people believe the North will shut down the project.
The $2 billion (1 billion pounds) a year it generates reduces Pyongyang's dependency on China, which accounted for almost $6 billion (3 billion pounds) in trade in 2012, according to South Korean government estimates.
Kaesong also generates more than $80 million (52 million pounds) a year in cash in wages. This is paid to the state rather than to workers.
(Writing by Jack Kim, Editing by Dean Yates)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 27 Mar 2013 06:00 PM PDT
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet ended months of speculation late on Wednesday by announcing she will run in a November presidential election that she is favoured to win.
A popular centre-leftist who ruled the copper-exporting nation from 2006 to 2010, Bachelet will likely face a candidate from the right-wing bloc of President Sebastian Pinera, who is barred from seeking a consecutive term under the constitution.
Front-runners for the ruling coalition's candidacy are charismatic businessman and former Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne and former Defence Minister Andres Allamand, a seasoned politician.
"I've taken some time to think about this decision ... And with happiness, with determination and much humility, I've taken the decision to be a (presidential) candidate," Bachelet said to cheers during a speech in Santiago, days after she quit her job as the head of U.N. Women.
Bachelet's return after months of speculation is a great relief to her fractured left-wing coalition, which Pinera ousted from a 20-year rule. She is expected to face little competition in the primaries.
Bachelet, a paediatrician-turned-politician, was one of Chile's most popular presidents.
Voters liked her affable manner, welfare policies and credited her for solid economic growth in one of Latin America's most stable, business-friendly countries.
Her high-profile U.N. post and time away from local politics have boosted her popularity, political analysts say, and opinion polls show her with a wide lead over other potential candidates.
In a poll published in January by local pollster CEP, 49 percent of those surveyed said they wanted Bachelet to be Chile's next president, versus 11 percent for Golborne and 5 percent for Allamand.
But analysts warn Bachelet's large lead will likely ebb during what looks set to be a heated campaign.
Whoever is elected on November 17 or in a potential run-off on December 15 will face demands for improved distribution of a mining bonanza in the world's No. 1 copper producer.
While Chile's economy grew a robust 5.6 percent last year and unemployment is at a six-year low, the country has the steepest income inequality among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development states.
Bachelet on Wednesday centred her speech on combating inequality, saying deep reforms were needed for Chile to become a developed country. Education, energy policy and wages are key electoral issues.
Chile's open economy and its solid institutions are expected to remain broadly intact regardless of who governs until 2018.
A single mother of three and a victim of torture under Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, Bachelet was one of conservative Chile's most unusual leaders since the return to democracy in 1990.
Critics said too much of her appeal was based on personality. Others in the wide-ranging leftist bloc blasted her for not pushing through bolder social reforms.
Bachelet's legacy was tainted by a slow response on providing aid and halting looting after a devastating 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit at the end of her term in February 2010.
She faced sharp criticism over the failure of the navy's catastrophe-alert system to warn of the ensuing tsunami, leaving hundreds who survived the quake to be engulfed by huge waves that followed.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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