ASEAN expresses 'grave concern' over tests despite North Korea appeal

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Southeast Asian countries expressed "grave concern" over North Korea's nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile launches, despite Pyongyang's appeal for support, according to a statement released Friday, April 28.

In a rare move, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho wrote to the ASEAN regional bloc's secretary general appealing for backing in its row with the United States to prevent what it warned could be a "nuclear holocaust."

But Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers meeting in Manila on Friday criticized North Korea for its two atomic weapons tests last year and subsequent launch of ballistic missiles, the ASEAN foreign ministers said in a statement.

"ASEAN expresses its grave concern over the escalation of tension in the Korean Peninsula," said the statement.

"ASEAN is mindful that instability in the Korean Peninsula will have serious impact to the region and beyond."

The ministers "strongly" urged North Korea "to fully comply" with UN Security Council resolutions and international laws, according to the draft.

However, ASEAN will also urge "all parties concerned" to "exercise self-restraint in order to de-escalate the tension."

Diplomats in Manila said the other parties apparently refer to the United States and regional powers China, Japan and South Korea – all key strategic players in the region.

ASEAN leaders are then due to meet on Saturday, April 29, when the situation on the peninsula is also expected to be discussed.

In his letter to ASEAN, a copy of which was obtained by Agence France-Presse on Thursday, April 27, North Korean foreign minister Ri warned the situation on the Korean Peninsula was "reaching the brink of war" because of Washington's actions.

Ri urged the ASEAN chief to inform the ASEAN foreign ministers "about the grave situation" on the peninsula "and give them a proper proposal", while criticizing at length US-South Korean military exercises.

Tensions have soared in the region in recent weeks in the wake of a series of North Korean missile tests and tough rhetoric from Washington on the isolated nation's rogue weapons program.

Washington has deployed an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean peninsula amid signs the North could be preparing for a 6th nuclear test, and US officials have said all options were on the table. – Rappler.com