North Korea defies US with new missile launches

Author: By Jon Herskovitz, Reuters

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the missile were Scuds, which would mark
an escalation by the reclusive North, which has fired several non-ballistic,
short-range missile since the May 25 nuclear test. North Korea is barred by
United Nations resolutions from firing ballistic missiles such as the Scud.

“North Korea fired two missiles, which appeared to be a Scud type,”
Yonhap quoted an anonymous South Korean official as saying early on
Saturday. “The missiles are estimated to have the range of about 500 km
(310 miles).”

Five similar missiles were fired at intervals over the next few hours, Yonhap
quoted a government source as saying.

South Korean Defence Ministry sources confirmed the North fired seven missiles
off its east coast that travelled for about 400 km, which would indicate it
fired ballistic missiles. The sources would not confirm the type of
missiles.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported the North may have fired at least one
Rodong, a mid-range missile that can fly about 1,000 km to 1,400 km and hit
all of South Korea and most of Japan.

It has taken authorities several hours to sort out the exact type of missiles
launched by the North when it previously fired off salvos of ballistic
missiles.

North Korea is thought to have more than 600 Scud-type missiles that include
the Hwasong-5, with a range of about 300 km and the Hwasong-6, with a range
of about 500 km.

Japan, a party to currently suspended six-nation talks aimed at coaxing the
isolated North to give up its nuclear programme in return for aid and
greater diplomatic recognition, was quick to condemn Pyongyang’s latest
action.

“Japan strongly protests and regrets today’s missile launches by North
Korea as they are a serious act of provocation against the security of
neighbouring countries, including Japan, and is against the resolution of
the UN Security Council,” Japan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

North Korea fired a barrage of four short-range, non-ballistic missiles into
the sea off its east coast on Thursday.

In 2006, North Korea test-fired its long range Taepodong-2 missile and other
ballistic missiles while the United States celebrated its July 4
Independence Day national holiday.

The South Korean official quoted by Yonhap said the North’s latest move
appeared to be intended to send a message to the United States.

“The missiles fired on July 2 were analysed to be part of military
drills, but today’s missiles seem to have political purposes in that they
were fired a day ahead of the US Independence Day,” the agency quoted
the official as saying.

UN sanctions put in place after the North’s nuclear test in May were aimed at
halting its trade in missiles systems, which are a vital source of foreign
currency for the cash-short state.

The US envoy who coordinates sanctions against the North, was in China earlier
this week to enlist Beijing’s help in getting tougher with North Korea.

China is the North’s biggest benefactor and trade partner whose help would be
essential for an effective sanctions regime, analysts said.

Daniel Pinkston, with the International Crisis Group in Seoul, said the test
helps the North’s military in its ability to fire off missiles and could
also be linked to the sanctions.

“The sanctions raised the cost of products such as missile systems.
Buyers, who are taking increased risks, want to be assured about the quality
and reliability of the product,” said Pinkston.

North Korea fired a rocket it said put a satellite into space in April. US,
South Korean and other officials said the launch was a disguised test of the
long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which could hit US territory, and nothing
was put into orbit.

The North has raised tension in recent months by saying it has started a
programme to enrich uranium, which could give it a second path to a nuclear
bomb, threatening to attack the South, and extracting plutonium at its
ageing Yongbyon nuclear plant.

Analysts said the moves may be aimed at securing internal support for leader
Kim Jong-il, 67 and thought to have suffered a stroke a year ago, as he
prepares the ground for his youngest son to succeed him at the head of
Asia’s only communist dynasty.

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