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Philippines worried over North Korea rocket debris


02:54 AM March 30th, 2012

By: Christine O. Avendaño, March 30th, 2012 02:54 AM

THE KOREAN CONNECTION President Aquino is flanked by former President Fidel V. Ramos (right) and South Korean Ambassador Lee Hye-min during the inauguration of the Peftok Korean War Memorial Hall at Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City on Thursday. Ramos fought in Korea as a young lieutenant. President Aquino’s father, Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., covered the war as a correspondent for the old Manila Times. LYN RILLON

Fearing debris could fall in the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday urged North Korea to forego a planned launch of a long range missile next month.

Mr. Aquino said it was “probable” that he would raise his government’s “grave concerns” over North Korea’s rocket launch with fellow leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations when they meet in the 20th Asean summit in Phnom Penh next week.

The President is to leave for Cambodia for the April 2-4 summits of the Asean and the 8th Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Peftok-Korean war memorial near the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City, Mr. Aquino voiced out for the first time his government’s official position on the new crisis involving North Korea.

The President, who unveiled the marker, thanked the Korean government for the memorial hall it had funded to honor the 7,000-strong Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea during the 1950s war, including former President Fidel Ramos who was present in the event.

The President noted how the two governments were able to work together during the tensions in the Korean Peninsula in November 2010 and how it strengthened “our mutual solidarity.”

Needless provocation

Referring to North Korea’s shelling of a border of South Korea, Mr. Aquino said the experience then was “an unnecessary burden on all of us, when we could have concentrated on commerce and cooperation.”

“No one benefits from a return to those tension-filled days, and it is precisely out of our desire to promote the well being of all our peoples—Korean and Filipino alike—that we express today our grave concerns over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s plans to launch what it claims as an earth observation satellite, but is widely believed to be a long range ballistic missile between April 12 and 16,” Mr. Aquino said.

The President said the use of ballistic missile technology in any launch violated the United Nations Security Council resolutions and would present “risks to all concerned.”

He said North Korea’s plans increased “tensions, particularly in the period of uncertainty leading up to the launch—where no one is sure of the trajectory of the missile.”

“Similarly, debris from the launch may potentially land in our territory. This is a needless provocation not only in the Korean peninsula, but in our entire region,” he said.

“It is with our respective peoples in mind that we urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea not to proceed with its planned launch,” the President said. “The way forward is for the DPRK to engage the international community and return to actions that promote confidence-building among its neighbors.”

Virtual invasion

Interviewed by reporters later, the President said: “You launch a missile and it winds up in a territory that does not belong to you. What right do you have to actually invade another country’s sovereign territory?”

Mr. Aquino said North Korea had a “lot of problems” and that it could have devoted its resources for the missile launch “to solve sufficiency of food for their people.”

“And if they turn to that direction I think the Philippines and other countries are more than willing to share whatever expertise and resources we do have so we will all prosper instead of diverting our attention to issues like this that pose unnecessary risk for all concerned,” he said.

Asked whether his call to North Korea would be heeded, the President said everyone knew how Pyongyang “responds to world opinion that’s why they have been labeled a pariah state.”

“In Tagalog, don’t care—or deadma—but will we not protect our right?” he added.

The President said the country was unprepared to deal with the debris because the government was not sure where the missile was headed.

Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as telling Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr last week, “If the missile test proceeds as North Korea has indicated, our judgement is that it will impact in an area roughly between Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.”

“We have never seen this trajectory before. We have weighed into each of these countries and asked them to make clear that such a test is provocative and this plan should be discontinued,” Campbell said.

Potential paralysis

Ramos told reporters that the United States, South Korea, Russia and China had the clout to persuade the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to change his mind.

“Can you imagine, even if we are outside the fallout zone of, let us assume a nuclear warhead, business will be paralyzed towards East Asia and that includes us,” Ramos said.

“We cannot export, and we cannot import, and tourism will just die off for a while, until normalcy resumes. So that is the danger that we are facing and it’s bad,” the former President said.

In his speech, President Aquino paid tribute to “the men of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea”  that included his father, Benigno S. Aquino Jr.,  who was a war correspondent during the Korean War.

Mr. Aquino said his father’s dispatches were a “tribute to the importance of solidarity, the demands of sacrifice and the true value of freedom and democracy.”

“He would return from the war and embark on a political career with these lessons in the back of his mind. They became the strongest weapons he had when he learned what it meant to fight for freedom in a time of peace,” the President said of his father Ninoy who fought the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and was assassinated upon his return in 1983 from exile in the United States.

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