Seoul (AFP) Oct 12, 2009
North Korea test-fired five short-range missiles off its east coast Monday and banned ships from the area from October 10-20, a South Korean official said.
The official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, confirmed a Yonhap news agency report of the launches and of the "no sail" zones covering parts of the east and west coasts.
The agency quoted military experts as saying the launches appear to be part of regular military exercises. But they did not exclude the possibility that Pyongyang is demonstrating its firepower for political purposes.
The launches were the first reported since early July, and come amid international efforts to bring the hardline communist state back to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
The US aircraft carrier USS George Washington is currently on exercises off the west coast of South Korea, the defence ministry said.
Yonhap said the North fired five KN-02 missiles with a range of 120 km (75 miles) from mobile launchers -- two in the morning and three in the afternoon.
The KN-02 is a modified version of the Soviet-designed SS-21 missile.
South Korean military officials refused comment.
The North has frequently launched short-range missiles off its east and west coasts in recent years. South Korean defence officials normally describe these as part of military exercises but they are sometimes timed to make a political point.
Pyongyang quit the six-party forum in April and staged its second nuclear test in May.
Last week the North told visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao it was willing to return to the six-party talks which it quit in April, but only after direct negotiations with the United States to improve "hostile relations".
Washington has said it is ready for bilateral talks, but merely to persuade the North to return to the multilateral forum. It has not set a date for any meeting.
On July 2 the North fired four short-range missiles believed to be surface-to-ship types.
It followed these with a salvo of seven longer-range ballistic missiles on July 4, US Independence Day, attracting sharp criticism from the United Nations.
In Belfast, visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula remained "unaffected" by Monday's test-firing.
"We have made a lot of progress with the other members of the six-party talks... who have been working with us to restart a process there," said Clinton, who is on a tour of Europe.
"Our consultation with our partners and allies continues unabated. It is unaffected by the behaviour of North Korea," she added.
In Moscow, Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed Russian foreign ministry source as saying: "This decision by the North Korean authorities evokes regret and bewilderment."
State news agency ITAR-TASS reported similar comments, also quoting unnamed sources at the ministry.
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SKorea researching longer-range missiles: official
Seoul (AFP) Oct 8, 2009
South Korea's top arms procurement official said Thursday his agency has begun research into developing longer-range ballistic missiles capable of putting all of North Korea in striking range. Byun Moo-Keun, head of the Defence Acquisition Programme Administration, said his group was conducting research into a missile with a range of more than 500 kilometres (305 miles). He confirmed the ... read more
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