Friday, March 30, 2012

North Korea tension escalates with missile tests

SEOUL: North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles off its west coast this week amid an escalation of tension ahead of its planned long-range rocket launch next month.

The North fired what appeared to be two KN-01 ground-to-ship missiles with a range of up to 120 kilometres early Thursday from a missile base near the western port of Nampo, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said on Friday.

It also cited an unnamed military official as saying that "the launch is believed to have been executed as a performance test", and was unrelated to North Korea's long-range rocket launch planned for April.

North Korea said this month it would fire a rocket to put a satellite into orbit between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding president Kim Il-Sung.

According to satellite images taken on Thursday, North Korea has begun work to prepare the launch pad.

Japan's Tokyo Shimbun, quoting a source "close to the government" in Pyongyang, also reported that the communist country has begun fuelling the rocket.

The North insists it will go ahead with what it calls the peaceful launch of a scientific satellite from its Tongchang-ri site in the far northwest.

The planned rocket launch has raised alarm bells around the world. The United States and its allies suspect the launch is a disguised long-range missile test, and said it would contravene UN sanctions aimed at curbing North Korea's missile programme.

On Friday, Japan's defence minister issued an order to shoot down the rocket if it threatens the nation's territory.

"I issued a destroy order," Defence Minister Naoki Tanaka told reporters in Tokyo, saying he had received the green light to shoot it down.

The order was issued after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's cabinet approved it on Friday morning.

South Korea had also said on Monday that it would shoot down the North's rocket if it strays into the South's territory.

Seoul is concerned that the first stage of the rocket, scheduled to drop into the Yellow Sea between South Korea and China, may fall onto the South's territory.

As for Thursday's tests, South Korea's defence ministry has declined to confirm reports on the short-range missile tests, which the North frequently conducts but their timing sometimes coincides with periods of tension.

The tests could also be viewed as a warning from North Korea, showing its disapproval of the ongoing US-South Korea military exercises.

However, analysts say new leader Kim Jong-Un has been trying to burnish his military credentials by conducting short-range missile tests since the death of his father.

The North reportedly test-fired two short-range missiles off its east coast on December 19, the same day it announced the death of leader Kim Jong-Il.

On January 13, South Korean officials said that the North fired three short-range missiles off its east coast in an apparently routine exercise.

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Source From Channel News Asia

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