//North Korea says U.S. is not world's "religion judge"

North Korea says U.S. is not world's "religion judge"

Wed Sep 27, 2006 12:15 PM IST172

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea hit back on Wednesday to U.S. charges that it suppresses religion by telling Washington to stop acting as the world's "religious judge".

The U.S. State Department, in its annual International Religious Freedom Report released this month, quoted defectors and others as saying North Korea imprisoned and executed people who tried to practise religion.

An article on Wednesday in Pyongyang's official Rodong Sinmun daily said: "The U.S., after the Sept. 11 incident, has murdered many Muslims in cold blood in its mainland, Afghanistan and Iraq and made no bones about insulting and overriding Islam and Islamic culture.

"The United States is not a 'religious judge' but a chief culprit in the repression and extermination of religion which should be put in the dock of a religious trial," Rodong Sinmun said, according to an authorised translation.

Reclusive North Korea, which governments and human rights groups say has one of the worst rights record in the world, bristles at any criticism of how it treats its citizens.

"They (U.S. leaders) hold heretical a religious view and religion which criticise or disapprove of the American way of life," said the article carried by the official KCNA news agency.

This is the latest in a long string of mutual recriminations between the two countries which remain technically at war half a century after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in an inconclusive truce.

On Tuesday, a senior North Korean official said Pyongyang would continue to boycott six-country talks on ending its nuclear weapons programme until Washington ends a crackdown on its international finances.

In recent months the United States has intensified the crackdown on firms it suspects of aiding the North in illicit activities, such as counterfeiting, making it more difficult for North Korea to do banking anywhere in the world.

The last round of the nuclear talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States took place in November 2005.