Monday, May 28, 2007

Report: North Korea test-fires missiles

Source: CNN.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea fired several short-range guided missiles Friday into the sea that separates it from Japan in an apparent test launch, South Korean officials and media reports said.

Analysts and media reports said the North's test was in response to South Korea's launch of its first destroyer equipped with high-tech Aegis radar technology on Friday. South Korea is now one of only five countries armed with the technology, which will make it easier to track and shoot down North Korean aircraft and missiles.

"This shows North Korea, whose navy is rather small, is extremely alarmed," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, an expert on North Korean issues at Japan's Waseda University.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed Friday's missile launches.

"The short-range missile launches are believed to be part of a routine exercise that North Korea has conducted annually on the east and the west coasts in the past," the statement said.

The missiles were fired from the communist country's east coast into the sea between Japan and the Korean peninsula, a Joint Chiefs official said on condition of anonymity, citing official protocol.

Japan's public broadcaster and other media, citing Japanese and U.S. sources, reported the missiles were surface-to-ship. Japan's Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry could not immediately confirm the reports.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited an unidentified Unification Ministry official as saying the tests would not strain ties because they were apparently part of regular exercises. North and South Korea are planning Cabinet level talks on reconciliation efforts next week in Seoul.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the tests "extremely regrettable" but said, "We do not consider (the missile firing) as a serious threat to Japan's national security."

Public broadcaster NHK said the missiles were shorter-range, and were not North Korea's existing Rodong or Taepodong I ballistic missiles.

Kyodo News agency said the missiles were launched from Hamgyong Namdo on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula and are considered modified silkworm or miniaturized Scuds, with a range of 60 to 125 miles.

Mobile missile carriers, communication equipment and personnel were seen in the area before the launch, but they left after the missiles were fired, Kyodo said.

Last month, North Korea displayed during a military parade a newly developed ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported, citing an unidentified South Korean government official familiar with an analysis of U.S. satellite images.

North Korea's missile program has been a constant concern to the region, along with its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The hard-line regime test-fired a series of missiles in July last year, including its latest long-range model, known abroad as the Taepodong-2, which experts believe could reach parts of the United States.

The North rattled the world again in October by conducting its first-ever test of a nuclear device. However, experts believe it does not have a bomb design advanced enough to be placed on a missile.

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