(Recasts with warning by U.N. officials, details throughout)
By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Top United Nations officials warned the Security Council on Monday that its sanctions on North Korea over the country's nuclear and missile programs may be harming the delivery of humanitarian aid to the impoverished, isolated Asian state.
The 15-member Security Council held its fourth annual meeting on human rights abuses in North Korea, despite objections by China, who said it was not the right forum and warned the move could further escalate tensions in the region.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said U.N. agencies and aid groups were "literally a life-line" for some 13 million vulnerable North Koreans, "but sanctions may be adversely affecting this essential help."
Zeid and deputy U.N. political affairs chief Miroslav Jenca said aid groups were facing difficulties accessing international banking channels, transporting goods into the North Korea, and rising fuel prices hindering delivery of aid.
In an Oct. 27 letter to the council sanctions committee on North Korea, seen by Reuters, the top U.N. official in Pyongyang, Tapan Mishra, also said there were customs problems.
"Crucial relief items, including medical equipment and drugs, have been held up for months despite being equipped with the required paperwork affirming that they are not on the list of sanctioned items," Mishra wrote.
Zeid asked the Security Council on Monday to assess the impact of the sanctions on human rights and take action "to minimize their adverse humanitarian consequences."
In a statement on Friday, the council sanctions committee reiterated that the nine sanctions resolutions adopted since 2006 "are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population" of North Korea.
North Korea has repeatedly rejected accusations of rights abuses and blames sanctions for the humanitarian situation.
The North Korean U.N. mission condemned Monday's meeting "as a desperate act of the hostile forces which lose the political and military confrontation with the DPRK (North Korea) that has openly risen to the position of nuclear weapon state."
Japan's U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho told reporters on Monday: "The humanitarian situation and human rights situation in North Korea is very dire and that's because of the authorities."
For the fourth time, China unsuccessfully tried to stop the public meeting by calling a procedural vote. A minimum of nine votes are needed to win such a vote and China, Russia, the United States, Britain and France cannot wield their vetoes.
Ten members voted in favor of the meeting, China, Russia and Bolivia voted against, and Egypt and Ethiopia abstained.
"Council members and relevant parties should engage themselves with finding ways to ease tensions on the Peninsula. They should avoid mutual provocation and words or actions that might further escalate the situation," China's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Wu Haitao told the council.
He said the discussion of human rights in North Korea was counterproductive.
"The systematic human rights violations and abuses of the North Korean government are more than the cause of its people's suffering. They are a means to a single end: Keeping the Kim Jong Un regime in power," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council.
The Security Council is due to hold a ministerial meeting on North Korea's nuclear and missiles programs on Friday.
(Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul; Editing by Susan Thomas and James Dalgleish)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.