G8 ministers strongly condemn North Korea

Actress Angelina Jolie urges action to prevent sexual violence against women

Foreign ministers from the G8 group of rich countries condemned "in the strongest possible terms" North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology today and called for more humanitarian aid to help civilians in Syria.

North Korea's threats of war and Iran's nuclear programme topped the agenda of the foreign ministers' talks in London but little substance came out of their private meetings with members of Syria's opposition on the sidelines of the gathering.

In a communique issued after the meeting, foreign ministers from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia urged North Korea to "refrain from further provocative acts".

"They condemned DPRK's (North Korea's) current aggressive rhetoric and confirmed that this will only serve to further isolate the DPRK," it said.

Actress Angelina Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also addressed the ministers, urging more action to prevent sexual violence against women in conflict zones.

The British government will spend a further £10 million on tackling war-zone sexual violence and violence against women and girls, foreign secretary William Hague announced today. Mr Hague said the commitment was necessary to "end the treatment of rape and sexual violence as a secondary issue and to put women and women's rights front and centre in conflict resolution."

Leaders of the Syrian National Coalition were present on the sidelines. During a lunch meeting yesterday, they asked global powers for more humanitarian aid, according to a US official.

The United States, which on February 28th said it will for the first time give non-lethal aid to Syrian rebel fighters and more than double its aid to Syria's civilian opposition, has so far chosen not to provide arms to the rebels.

In the final statement, the ministers themselves "called for greater humanitarian assistance and for improved and safe access to the Syrian people by humanitarian agencies in co-ordination with all parties to the conflict".

High alert

Meanwhile South Korea and the United States were on high alert for a North Korean missile test-launch today, as the isolated state celebrated the rule of the Kim dynasty and appeared to tone down rhetoric of impending war. Despite recent threats to attack US bases and the South, North

Korea started to welcome a stream of visitors for Monday's celebrations marking the birthday of its founder Kim Il-sung. North Korea has stationed as many as five medium-range missiles on its east coast, according to defence assessments by Washington and Seoul, possibly in readiness for a test-launch that would demonstrate its ability to hit US bases on Guam.

"There are signs the North could fire off Musudan missiles any time soon," an unnamed intelligence source in Seoul told Yonhap news agency . Most observers say Pyongyang has no intention of starting a war that would be likely to bring its own destruction but warn of the risks of miscalculation on the highly-militarised Korean peninsula.

There were few signs of alarm in Seoul, the South Korean capital, and financial markets shrugged off the risk of conflict with stocks posting a third day of gains. New South Korean President Park Geun-hye met foreign businessmen on Today and reassured them the country was safe and was working closely with the United States and China, the North's only major diplomatic ally. Taiwan became the first country to warn its citizens against travelling to South

In Washington, US defence secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the North was "skating very close to a dangerous line" with its threats and provocations, and said the United States, currently involved in military exercises with South Korea, was prepared to respond to any moves by Pyongyang.

Reuters/PA