Thursday, March 09, 2006

South Korean Official Confirms North Korean Missile Launch

A South Korean military intelligence official confirmed Thursday that North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles this week, as the US urged the communist nation to abide by its moratorium on missile tests. There were conflicting reports about details of Wednesday’s missile launches, but they underscored the dangers posed by North Korea’s longer-range missiles and professed nuclear weapons program and its tendency to cause instability in the region. “It is true that North Korea fired the missiles yesterday,” the South Korean intelligence official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the information.
He added that there had been indications of a missile launch over the past two days, including the transfer of equipment to the area of the launch site at Sabujin, just below the city of Kim Chaek in North Hamkyong Province on North Korea’s northeast coast on the Sea of Japan. He could not confirm the direction of the missile launch. On Wednesday, Japan’s Kyodo news agency cited a “security source” in China as saying the missiles were fired by mistake in the direction of China during a military drill and apparently landed inside the North. The agency also cited a “Western military source” as saying the short-range missiles were test-fired in an eastern direction from the North’s eastern coast, toward the Sea of Japan. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that, “Indications are that North Korea launched two short-range missiles,” similar to tests it has conducted in the past. “We have consistently pointed out that North Korea’s missile program is a concern that poses a threat to the region and the larger international community,” McClellan said in an e-mail to reporters. Pyongyang shocked Tokyo and other nations when it test-fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan in 1998, giving impetus to US and Japanese efforts to upgrade missile defense systems.
Although North Korea announced a moratorium on missile tests a year later, it has since test-fired short-range missiles many times, including one launched into the Sea of Japan in May. US officials said North Korea should abide by its missile moratorium, and that its activities demonstrated the importance of getting Pyongyang to drop its boycott of six-nation talks on halting its nuclear weapons program. “So we would call upon North Korea to abide by the moratorium concerning missile tests,” US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. It isn’t known if the North has built a functioning nuclear weapon as it claims, since the country isn’t believed to have performed any nuclear tests. Putting a device on a missile is even more complicated, and there’s no evidence the North has done that either. Still, experts believe the North has extracted enough plutonium from its main nuclear reactor for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons or more.