UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - North Korean diplomats on Thursday walked out of a UN conference on human rights in protest at the testimonies from three defectors about their ordeal living under the regime.
A Pyongyang representative interrupted the conference when he tried to deliver a statement after dissident Joseph Kim had given his address. He was told he would be given an opportunity to make a statement later.
US Ambassador Samantha Power ordered UN staff to turn off the North Korean diplomat's microphone and security guards were dispatched to the conference room at UN headquarters.
The three diplomats then stood up and left the room telling reporters that they were denied the opportunity to speak as a UN member-state.
The North Korean mission to the United Nations issued a statement accusing the United States of waging a "smear campaign" against Pyongyang and said the defectors had "betrayed and fled their motherland".
"It plainly shows the pitiful position of the United States that reaches out even to the 'defectors' as if a drowning man catches at a straw, after failing in political and military confrontation with the DPRK one after another," said the statement.
Richard Kim told the symposium organised by the United States and South Korea that he watched his father die of starvation at the age of 12.
His mother was sent to a prison labour camp for travelling to China where she had sent his sister in hope that she would be spared from hardship.
Kim eventually fled to China and arrived in the United States eight years ago as a refugee.
Kim appealed to the UN conference to "continue lending an ear to the story of the North Korean people" so that "we can bring light to the darkest corners of the world's most isolated country".
The UN Security Council in December held its first-ever meeting on the human rights crisis in North Korea despite objections from China, which said the issue should be discussed at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
The General Assembly last year adopted a resolution calling on the Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.