SEOUL (AFP) — North Korea Thursday fired two short-range missiles, fuelling tensions sparked by its nuclear standoff, as a US team began talks in China on ways to make UN sanctions bite against Pyongyang.
The missiles were launched in the early evening from a base near the eastern port of Wonsan, South Korea's defence ministry said.
"They appear to be ground-to-ship missiles, which were launched into the East Sea (Sea of Japan)," a spokesman told AFP.
"We have no detailed information now but there have been preparations for missile launches in the region."
The North has responded angrily to United Nations sanctions imposed following its long-range rocket launch on April 5 and a May 25 nuclear test, and vowed to bolster its defences.
It warned Japan Wednesday to stay clear of some areas off its east and west coasts during military exercises lasting until July 11.
South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, quoting an intelligence source, said the North in coming days is likely to fire a series of short-range missiles.
Apart from ground-to-ship weapons with a range of 140 kilometres (88 miles), it said these would likely include Scud-B missiles with a range of 340 km.
The North may also fire Rodongs, whose 1,300-km range would likely be shortened to some 400 km for the current round of testing, the paper predicted.
In the days after its atomic test -- the second since 2006 -- Pyongyang had fired a total of six short-range missiles and renounced the truce in force on the Korean peninsula.
In response to a UN resolution on June 12 tightening curbs on its missile and atomic activities, it vowed to build more nuclear bombs.
US and South Korean officials believe ailing leader Kim Jong-Il, 67, is staging a show of strength to bolster his authority as he tries to put in place a succession plan involving his youngest son.
Seoul's defence ministry refused to confirm a Yonhap news agency report that the North Thursday fired KN-01 missiles with a range of up to 160 km.
The agency quoted an unnamed military official as saying the missiles travelled about 100 km.
The official said the launches could be part of a military exercise but speculated there may be more missiles "in a show of force" to the outside world.
A US delegation Thursday met officials in Beijing for talks on giving the UN sanctions teeth.
The support of China, the North's sole major ally and largest trade partner, is seen as crucial in making the sanctions stick.
The delegation led by Philip Goldberg -- the State Department's point man on coordinating implementation of the sanctions -- met officials from the foreign ministry, the US embassy said.
His team includes members of the National Security Council and the departments of Treasury and Defence.
US warships have since mid-June been tracking a North Korean ship suspected of carrying weapons. The Kang Nam 1 was reportedly headed for Myanmar but US officials said Tuesday it has now turned back.
China, which stresses diplomacy over force with its neighbour, said its top envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue, Wu Dawei, had begun a visit to Russia, the United States, Japan and South Korea.
They are members of a forum which has tried since 2003 to persuade the North to disarm in return for energy aid and diplomatic and security benefits. The North announced it was quitting the talks after the UN censured its rocket launch.
North and South Korea met Thursday for more talks about the fate of their last major joint business project, the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial estate just north of the border.
They failed to narrow differences or to set the date for their next meeting, Seoul officials said.
The South rejects the North's demand for huge pay rises and rent increases at Kaesong, and demands freedom for a South Korean worker who has been held for more than 90 days.
The North alleges the man slandered its political system and tried to incite a local woman worker to defect. It refuses to grant access to him.
Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
By HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press Writer Hyung-jin Kim, Associated Press Writer – Wed Jun 24, 7:13 pm ET
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea accused Washington of seeking to "provoke a second Korean War" as the regime prepared to hold maritime military exercises off the eastern coast. U.S. and regional authorities were watching closely for signs that North Korea might fire short- or mid-range missiles during the June 25 to July 10 timeframe cited in a no-sail ban for military drills sent to Japan's Coast Guard.
North Korea had warned previously it would fire a long-range missile as a response to U.N. Security Council condemnation of an April rocket launch seen as a cover for its ballistic missile technology.
An underground nuclear test last month drew more Security Council action: a resolution seeking to clamp down on North Korea's trading of banned arms and weapons-related material by requiring U.N. member states to request inspections of ships carrying suspected cargo.
In a first test of the new resolution, a North Korean ship suspected of transporting illicit weapons was sailing off China's coast with a U.S. destroyer close behind.
The Kang Nam, which left the North Korean port of Nampo a week ago, is believed bound for Myanmar, South Korean and U.S. officials said.
Myanmar state television downplayed the reports of a possible weapons shipment Wednesday evening, saying another North Korean vessel was expected to pick up a load of rice but that the government had no information about the Kang Nam.
A senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that the ship had already cleared the Taiwan Strait.
He said he didn't know how much range the Kang Nam has — that is, whether or when it may need to stop in some port to refuel — but that the Kang Nam has in the past stopped in Hong Kong's port.
Another U.S. defense official said he tended to doubt reports that the Kang Nam was carrying nuclear-related equipment, saying the information officials have received seems to indicate the cargo is conventional munitions.
The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing intelligence.
Officials said last week that they believed the ship was carrying smaller arms, though they didn't elaborate.
The U.S. and its allies have not decided whether to contact and request inspection of the ship, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday.
"That's a decision that will have to be made at some point, and not necessarily just by us or this government," he said at a news conference. "I think we will likely take (the decision) collectively with our allies and partners."
He said he didn't believe a decision would come soon.
North Korea has said it would consider interception of its ships a declaration of war, and on Wednesday accused the U.S. of seeking to start another Korean War.
"If the U.S. imperialists start another war, the army and people of Korea will ... wipe out the aggressors on the globe once and for all," a dispatch from the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The warning came on the eve of the 59th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. The brutal fighting ended after three years in a truce in 1953, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided and in a state of war. The U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect against an outbreak of hostilities.
On Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. Walter Sharp, praised soldiers from U.S.-led U.N. forces who died fighting the "tyranny" of communist North Korea decades ago.
"A North Korean victory in the Korean War would have brought the nightmare of tyranny to this great land, thrusting the citizens of the Republic of Korea into a darkness that their northern counterparts have yet to emerge from," he said a commemoration ceremony Wednesday, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
Reports about possible missile launches from the North highlighted the state of tension on the Korean peninsula.
A senior South Korean government official said the no-sail ban is believed connected to North Korean plans to fire short- or mid-range missiles. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
Yonhap reported that the North may fire a Scud missile with a range of up to 310 miles (500 kilometers) or a short-range ground-to-ship missile with a range of 100 miles (160 kilometers) during the no-sail period.
U.S. defense and counterproliferation officials in Washington said they also expected the North to launch short- to medium-range missiles. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
South Korea will expedite the introduction of high-tech unmanned aerial surveillance systems and "bunker-buster" bombs in response to North Korea's provocations, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing lawmakers.
Meanwhile, a flurry of diplomatic efforts were under way to try getting North Korea to return to disarmament talks.
Russia's top nuclear envoy, Alexei Borodavkin, said after meeting with his South Korean counterpart that Moscow is open to other formats for discussion since Pyongyang has pulled out of formal six-nation negotiations.
In Beijing, top U.S. and Chinese defense officials also discussed North Korea. U.S. Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy was heading next to Tokyo and Seoul for talks.
South Korea has proposed high-level "consultations" to discuss North Korea with the U.S., Russia, China and Japan.
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