Foreign Office team to visit North Korea

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Britain is to send a minister for the first time to the reclusive communist state of North Korea to press for action over the issue of nuclear weaponry and to improve its human rights record.

Britain is to send a minister for the first time to the reclusive communist state of North Korea to press for action over the issue of nuclear weaponry and to improve its human rights record.

Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, will travel to Pyongyang this month for talks with North Korea's Foreign Minister, Paek Nam Sun, and other senior figures. Mr Rammell will also meet non-governmental agencies in the country, which was condemned by President George Bush as part of the "axis of evil".

The British delegation's visit, which will include the Foreign Office's chief human rights expert, Jon Benjamin, is timed to come ahead of the next round of stalled six-nation peace talks with South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.

It will also fulfil a long-standing invitation made after North Korea re-established diplomatic relations with Britain in 2002 - the same year that Pyongyang admitted to a secret nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Rammell said: "They have at last agreed that they will discuss our human rights concerns. I will urge North Korea to remain committed to the objectives of the talks, namely denuclearisation ... I will urge it to comply with the resolutions of the UN Commission on Human Rights."

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