Seoul (AFP) June 28, 2007
North Korea's latest missile launches were aimed at testing and developing new ballistic missiles, South Korea's defence ministry said Thursday. The ministry confirmed belatedly that the North fired ground-to-ground and ground-to-ship missiles with a range of about 100 kilometres (62 miles) into the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea respectively on Wednesday.
The launches appeared to be aimed at testing "new missiles which have not been deployed and are still in the development stage," it said in a statement.
The ministry, however, refused to confirm a press report that North Korea fired three missiles.
The latest tests came as UN inspectors prepared to visit a reactor at the heart of North Korea's nuclear programme in their first on-site inspection there in nearly five years.
US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe urged North Korea to refrain from conducting "further provocative ballistic missile launches" which he said destabilise the security of Northeast Asia.
"The United States is deeply troubled that North Korea has decided to launch these missiles during a delicate time in the six-party talks," he said.
Johndroe said the launches violated a UN resolution prohibiting the isolated nation from taking such action.
In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a tough international response to the tests.
"North Korea must respond to the concerns of the international community. It should make more effort to improve people's lives rather than to fire missiles," Abe said.
China gave a muted response to the tests, calling only for continued efforts to push forward the six-party process aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear programme.
North Kora's missile launches have heightened tensions in the region in the past decade. In 1998 North Korea sparked alarm in Japan by test-firing a long-range missile over that country.
Wednesday's launches were the North's third missile tests this year.
In July last year it test-fired seven missiles, including the Taepodong-2, which in theory could reach the US west coast. Those launches brought UN condemnation and missile-related sanctions.
Some analysts in Seoul say the North, after staging its first nuclear test last October, might be preparing the ground for another long-range missile test.
earlier related report
In a related development, Seoul announced it would hold talks for the first time on supplying impoverished North Korea with an initial tranche of energy aid promised in a February disarmament agreement.
Under that deal, the communist country vowed to shut down the five-megawatt Yongbyon site under UN supervision in exchange for badly-needed energy and diplomatic concessions.
Olli Heinonen, head of the four-strong UN team that has been in North Korea since Tuesday, was quoted as saying in Pyongyang that "we are going to see the facilities and continue our discussion in more detail."
The team is expected to return to Pyongyang Friday, China's Xinhua agency quoted him as saying as he left for Yongbyon.
Officials from the two Koreas will meet Friday and Saturday on providing 50,000 tons of fuel oil at the North Korean border town of Kaesong, the South's unification ministry said.
Yongbyon, 95 kilometres (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, was ostensibly built to generate electricity but it is reportedly not connected to any power lines.
Instead, experts believe, it has produced enough plutonium over the past 20 years for possibly up to a dozen nuclear weapons.
UN inspectors were kicked out of North Korea in December 2002 at the start of an international standoff that led to the regime testing a nuclear weapon for the first time last year.
Under the February deal, the North must eventually abandon the reactor for good and come clean on all of its nuclear programmes, including an enriched uranium-based scheme which it has denied operating.
If that is judged successful, Pyongyang would eventually receive energy aid equivalent to one million tons of heavy fuel oil.
US envoy Christopher Hill has predicted North Korea will shut down Yongbyon within three weeks, while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she expected "rapid" progress in international talks.
Rice shrugged off the North's latest missile tests, which took place on Wednesday, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanded a tough stance be taken.
"We must seek a severe response in the international community," Abe said. "North Korea must respond to the concerns of the international community.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi spoke by telephone Thursday and were upbeat about the progress in the nuclear issue, Xinhua reported.
Japan and China are two of the six nations involved in talks on the North's nuclear drive. The others are the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.
Russia's envoy on North Korea Alexander Losyukov indicated his country would support four-nation talks, excluding Tokyo and Moscow, if it helped push forward the peace process.
Officials in Seoul and Washington expect full six-party talks to resume in July.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Lockheed Martin has received an $18 million contract for Low Cost Reduced-Range Practice Rockets (LCRRPR) for the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS). The contract calls for the delivery of 4,350 practice rockets for Soldiers training to use GMLRS, for which the Army has declared an urgent in-theater need. Production on the contract will occur at the company's facility in Camden, AR.
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