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China welcomes Swiss efforts in North Korea

Calmy-Rey meets President Roh Moo Hyun in Seoul

(Keystone)

China has welcomed Switzerland's offer to broker dialogue between North and South Korea.

The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said the Swiss foreign minister's visit to the Far East had been a useful contribution towards peace on the Korean peninsula.

A spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry said Jiabao praised Micheline Calmy-Rey's efforts to promote peace in the region.

"Minister Calmy-Rey's trip to Asia turned out to be a visit of peace and friendship," Jiabao said.

Swiss officials said Calmy-Rey also raised human rights issues during her talks with her Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing.

The main focus on her Asian trip, though, was her crossing of the demarcation line separating North and South Korea on Tuesday.

On both sides, Calmy-Rey offered Switzerland's good offices to help ease tension in the region.

Her gesture of crossing the line earned her praise from both Koreas.

“For me, it is very significant that you crossed at Panmunjom, because it is a sign of opening towards peace,” South Korea's president, Roh Moo Hyun, told Calmy-Rey in Seoul on Thursday.

“We talked openly and he said he was satisfied with the messenger role Switzerland was playing,” said Calmy-Rey.

Relations between the two neighbours have soured since October, following revelations about the North’s nuclear programme.

Building bridges

During her talks with the South Korean president, the Swiss foreign minister passed on three messages from Pyongyang regarding relations between the two Koreas.

Calmy-Rey said the first message was the one symbolised by her crossing the heavily fortified border from North to South Korea.

"That Pyongyang accepted for our delegation to cross the military demarcation line is a sign in itself," she told swissinfo.

"The North Koreans had to ask the American forces stationed at Panmunjom for authorisation to allow us to cross, and that had symbolic value."

Calmy-Rey became the first non-Korean government official to cross the four-kilometre-wide Demilitarised Zone between the two Koreas on Tuesday.

"The second message from the North Koreans was that their objective remains the creation of a confederation between the two Koreas," she said.

"The third was Pyongyang's wish to hold talks with the United States. The ball is now in their [the Americans] court."

Mediation

Calmy-Rey also expressed Switzerland's availability to act as a "facilitator" for Seoul in possible talks over the future of the Korean peninsula.

She extended the same offer to her North Korean counterpart, Paek Nam Sun, earlier in the week.

Calmy-Rey once again stressed that any Swiss role would depend on all parties involved agreeing to it.

She said Switzerland would not be an active player, but that the facilitator role could involve a number of different arrangements.

"It could mean transmitting messages to ease contacts between members of the civil society; it could mean using international gatherings to enhancing contacts or it could even mean facilitating contacts between experts in different areas," she said.

Calmy-Rey told swissinfo that Washington was being kept fully abreast of the content of her talks.

swissinfo, Juliet Linley

Key facts

Thursday also marked the 50th anniversary of Switzerland's Observer Mission, stationed on the demarcation line between the two Koreas.
Swiss personnel have been stationed at Panmunjom as part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea (NNSC).
The NNSC was appointed to monitor the 1953 armistice.

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