03/09/2006, 00.00
NORTH KOREA – SOUTH KOREA
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Seoul claims Pyongyang test-fired short-range missiles

This was revealed today by a South Korean intelligence official. It was not possible to establish the direction of the launch.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A South Korean secret services official today claimed that North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles this week. The US had called on Pyongyang to adhere to a moratorium on missile testing.

"North Korea fired a missile yesterday," said the South Korean official, who preferred to remain anonymous. He added that there were signs of the transfer of military equipment to the north-east of the country, near the Sea of Japan, at the launch site at Sabujin, near Chaek, the city of Kim in the province of Hamkyong.

The official said it was impossible to verify the direction of the missile launch.

Yesterday, the Japanese press agency Kyodo, said that according to a Chinese "security source", the two missiles were fired by mistake towards China during a military exercise. However, the agency then quoted a "western military source" saying the missiles were tested in a launch towards the east, in the direction of the Sea of Japan.

In an email to reporters, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "Indications are that North Korea launched two short-range missiles. North Korea's missile programme is a concern that poses a threat to the international community." US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it was important that Pyongyang accepted to resume the six-party nuclear talks. "Then we could discuss; we would call on Pyongyang to respect the moratorium on testing missiles."

In 1998, the US and Japan upgraded their defence systems after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles over northern Japan into the Pacific Ocean. A year later, Pyongyang announced that it was suspending testing, but since then it has anyhow tested some short-range missiles, including one launched into the Sea of Japan last May.

It is unclear whether or not Pyongyang has nuclear arms: it seems the country has not made any tests but anyhow experts believe it has enough plutonium to construct at least half a dozen nuclear weapons.

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