Asean defence ministers urge North Korea to rein in nuke, missile programmes

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defence Ministers at the 11th ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting opening ceremony in Clark, east of Manila on Oct 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

CLARK FREEPORT ZONE, PHILIPPINES (REUTERS) - South-east Asian defence ministers on Monday (Oct 23) expressed "grave concern" over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes and urged the reclusive country to meet its international obligations and resume communications.

North Korea is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US mainland and has ignored all calls, even from its lone major ally, China, to rein in its weapons programmes which it conducts in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

Defence ministers from the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), in a joint statement, underscored the "need to maintain peace and stability in the region" and called "for the exercise of self-restraint and the resumption of dialogue to de-escalate tensions in the Korean peninsula".

They are due to meet with their counterparts from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, Russia and New Zealand on Tuesday when North Korea, the disputed South China Sea and terrorism are expected to top the agenda.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said he will talk with Asian allies about North Korea and the crisis caused by its "reckless" provocations.

General Mattis' trip to Asia, which will also include stops in Thailand and South Korea, comes just weeks before Mr Donald Trump's first visit to Asia as US president.

In the same statement, the ministers reiterated the importance of "safety and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea" and called for "self restraint in the conduct of activities".

They also vowed to work together to combat terrorism as they condemned the attack by the Maute militant group in the southern Philippine city of Marawi.

The Philippines on Monday announced the end of five months of military operations in Marawi after a fierce and unfamiliar urban war that marked the country's biggest security crisis in years.

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