Switzerland Offers North Korea Crisis Mediation

South Korean army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence at sunset near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separat
South Korean army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence at sunset near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, April 7, 2013. A top South Korean national security official said Sunday that North Korea may be setting the stage for a missile test or another provocative act with its warning that it soon will be unable to guarantee diplomats' safety in Pyongyang. But he added that the North's clearest objective is to extract concessions from Washington and Seoul. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

ZURICH, April 7 (Reuters) - Switzerland has offered to mediate with North Korea as tension rises on the Korean peninsula following U.N. sanctions imposed in response to a North Korean nuclear weapon test in February.

The Swiss foreign ministry recently made contact with the North Korean authorities but there are no current plans for any talks, a spokeswoman said.

"Switzerland is willing to contribute to a de-escalation on the Korean peninsula and is always willing to help find a solution, if this is the wish of the parties, such as hosting meetings between them," she said in an emailed statement.

North Korea has issued increasingly strident warnings of imminent war with South Korea and the United States, urging diplomats on Friday to consider leaving Pyongyang.

Swiss media say that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who took over in December 2011 after the death of his father Kim Jong-il, apparently spent several years in Switzerland being educated under a pseudonym.

Neutral Switzerland often hosts peace talks and mediates in international conflicts, more recently between Russia and Ukraine and between the United States and Iran and Cuba.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it had been involved in more than 15 sets of peace negotiations in the past seven years, including in Sudan, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Nepal.

Former Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who in 2003 became the first foreign government official to cross the demarcation line separating North and South Korea, said Pyongyang's wishes had not changed much since then.

"For North Korea, symbols are very important," she told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper in an interview. "What the North Koreans still want is recognition and security guarantees from the United States."

Five Swiss and five Swedish officers monitor the demilitarised zone between the North and South. Urs Gerber, the Swiss head of the operation, said not much has changed in recent months. "We are just monitoring the situation more intensively," he also told the SonntagsZeitung. (Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Mark Heinrich)



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