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UN finds crimes against humanity

BY MATTHEW PENNINGTON Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A U.N. panel has found that crimes against humanity have been committed in North Korea and will call for an international criminal investigation, The Associated Press has learned.

The report, to be released Monday, is the most authoritative account yet of rights violations by North Korean authorities, and it is bound to infuriate the country's unpredictable leader. But justice remains a distant prospect, not least as North Korea's ally, China, would be likely to block any referral to the International Criminal Court.

The commission, which conducted a yearlong investigation, has found evidence of an array of crimes, including "extermination," crimes against humanity against starving populations and a widespread campaign of abductions of individuals in South Korea and Japan.

Its report does not examine in detail individual responsibility for crimes but recommends steps toward accountability. It could also build international pressure on North Korea, whose dire rights record has drawn less censure at the U.N. than its nuclear and missile programs have. North Korea's hereditary regime has shrugged off years of continuous outside pressure, including tough U.N. and U.S. sanctions directed at its weapons programs.

An outline of the report's conclusions was provided to the AP by an individual familiar with its contents who was not authorized to divulge the information before its formal release and who spoke on condition of anonymity. A U.S. official, speaking anonymously for the same reason, confirmed the main conclusions.

The three-member commission, led by retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, was set up by the U.N.'s top human rights body last March in the most serious international attempt yet to probe evidence of systematic and grave rights violations in the reclusive, authoritarian state, which is notorious for its political prisons camps, repression and famine that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the 1990s.

The report concludes that the testimony and other information it received, "create reasonable grounds ... to merit a criminal investigation by a competent national or international organ of justice."

A spokesman for North Korea's U.N. Mission in New York who refused to give his name told the AP: "We totally reject the unfounded findings of the Commission of Inquiry regarding crimes against humanity. We will never accept that."

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