Julian Assange: UK embassy ‘threat’ angers South American leaders
Unasur group, which includes Argentina and Venezuela, attacks alleged plan to enter building and arrest WikiLeaks leader
Foreign ministers of South America’s 12-nation union have condemned Britain’s alleged threat to forcibly enter the Ecuadorean embassy in London and arrest the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
A brief statement by the ministers did not, however, endorse Ecuador‘s decision to grant asylum to Assange, who is wanted by Sweden for questioning about allegations of sexual misconduct. The ministers of the Unasur group issued the statement after they met in Guayaquil, Ecuador, at the host nation’s request. The group’s general secretary, Ali Rodriguez of Venezuela, said the meeting lasted 20 minutes.
The ministers “condemned the threat of the use of force between states” and reiterated “the right of states to concede asylum”, the statement said. They also urged the parties to follow the “path of dialogue and direct negotiations” to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the impasse.
Assange has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy for two months and Britain is refusing him safe passage out of the country. The alleged British threat came in a diplomatic letter delivered to Ecuador on Wednesday, a day before it granted Assange asylum.
Britain later said it had no intention of storming the embassy, which would breach the 1961 Vienna convention, which declares foreign embassies inviolate.
Unasur’s gathering came a day after the regional Alba group of leftist governments also held a meeting in Guayaquil, at which Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina all endorsed Ecuador’s asylum decision about Assange.
Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Chile are among Latin American nations that have not taken a stand.
Ecuador says it granted asylum because neither Britain nor Sweden would offer guarantees they would not allow Assange’s extradition to the US. Supporters of Assange say they fear he has been secretly indicted by a grand jury in the US.
The Ecuadorean president, Rafael Correa, says there is sufficient reason to fear the Australian ex-hacker who published the largest trove of US secrets ever in 2010 would be denied due process in the US and could face life in prison or even the death penalty.
“If we compare the arguments of the two countries, right is on our side,” Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said, comparing his nation to Britain.
He said that Ecuador had not decided whether to appeal to the UN over the dispute, adding that he would await the outcome of a meeting on Friday in Washington. Foreign ministers of the Organisation of American States, which includes the US and Canada, will discuss the matter at the meeting.
Retired US diplomat Myles Frechette, an expert on the region, said he doesn’t expect any kind of consensus in support of Ecuador’s decision to give Assange asylum. “While some of the governments in the region will cheer Correa’s little guy exposure of US arrogance in commenting on some of the actions of other governments (in diplomatic cables published online by WikiLeaks), some like Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Peru want to be taken seriously as internationally credible interlocutors,” Frechette said.