05/23/2006, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Pyongyang researches new missiles, funded by state crimes

by Pino Cazzaniga

According to western military sources, North Korea is about to test a new missile, capable of striking the USA. To pay for its experiments, the regime traffics drugs and fake dollars.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Western military sources in Beijing said North Korea has completed the construction of new missiles, the Taepodong 2 (range of 5,000km) that could reach the United States. Further, according to a statement by Japanese government officials, going by satellite photo surveys, it turns out the North Koreans are finalizing preparations for a test-launch of the new missile. Movement of heavy vehicles has in fact increased significantly near arms bases on the coast of the Sea of Japan.

Meanwhile illegal trafficking continues, especially of drugs and fake dollars, with which the regime of Pyongyang gets the money to press ahead with its experiments.

News of the new North Korean missile, if proved to be true, is worrying because, apart from posing a potential threat to the people of Japan, it presents another obstacle to the continuation of talks aimed at drawing the "hermit nation" out of its international isolation.

In August 1998, North Korea shocked the world by test-launching Taepodong 1 missile with a range of 2,500 km which, observed by Japan, ended up in the Pacific Ocean. Back then, Pyongyang replied to international protests by saying the missile had been launched with a view to launching a satellite to orbit.

Since then, following an agreement for a moratorium with the United States (1999) and with the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi (2002), Pyongyang did not conduct any more experimental mid and long range missile launches. Evidently, the agreed moratorium was just a tactical move to win time.

The powerful Taepodong are the result of technological development that North Korea obtained from the Soviet Union. Western sources in Beijing also said that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il decided on a programme of missile development in 1995, which was set to lead to the realization of the Taepodong 1 in 2000 and Taepodong 2 in 2008. His engineers worked with such zeal that they achieved the aims two years ahead of schedule.

The spokesman of the government of the United States, Sean McCormack, said the launch of the new missile casts even more doubt on the desire of North Korea to commit itself to international dialogue, because it contradicts the letter and the spirit of the joint statement of 19 September, signed by all members of the "six-party talks". In this statement, Pyongyang committed itself, on principle, to renounce its nuclear ambitions and to continue dialogue.

To get the necessary money for weapons and nuclear development, the impoverished North Korea resorts to illegal methods: drug trade and forging valued foreign currencies.

Over the years, enormous quantities of drugs have been seized by Japan. In autumn of 2002, the anti-drug police squad discovered around one ton – equivalent to around 33 million doses – with a street value of around 60 billion yen.

Asahi wrote: "It's horrible to imagine how many people would have become drug addicts."

On 12 May, the arrest of a South Korean and a member of the Japanese mafia allowed the police to demonstrate how drugs have been coming from North Korea. A cell phone found aboard a North Korean spy-ship, which sank in December 2002 and was recovered by Japanese technicians, led to the arrest of the suspects. The drugs, loaded onto foreign ships in a port in North Korea and placed in cans and bags, were thrown into the Sea of Japan, where they would be fished out by Japanese fishermen. The two people arrested were the intermediaries between North Korea and the Japanese mafia organization that dealt with distribution of the product.

Drug trafficking is not the only crime the state of North Korea is suspected of. Last year, the United States established beyond doubt that a large supply of forged dollars were of North Korean origin. They were then recycled by a bank in Macao, the Delta Bank. Washington ordered the Asian bank to freeze 24 million dollars as a financial sanction against North Korea. For this reason, or excuse, Pyongyang has since September refused to attend "six-party talks".

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