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NKorea moves missiles‚ South on high alert

Any testing of the 3‚500 km range weapon system could endanger SKorea‚ Japan and US bases
SEOUL/WASHINGTON: South Korea said today there was “very high” probability that North Korea, engaged in weeks of threats of war, would launch a medium-range missile at any time as a show
of strength despite diplomatic efforts to soften its position.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said South Korea had asked China and Russia to intercede with the North to ease tension that has mounted since the UN Security Council imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea after its third nuclear arms test in February.

But all was calm in the South Korean capital, Seoul, long used to North Korean invective under its 30-year-old leader Kim Jong-un. Offices worked normally and customers crowded into city-centre cafes.

Other officials in Seoul said surveillance of North Korean activity had been enhanced. Missile transporters had been spotted in South Hamgyong province along North Korea’s east coast — a possible site for a launch.

North Korea observes several anniversaries in the next few days and they could be pretexts for displays of military strength.

These include the first anniversary of Kim’s formal ascent to power, the 20th anniversary of rule by his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011, and the anniversary, next Monday, of the birth of the young Kim’s grandfather, state founder Kim Il-Sung.

In Washington, Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of US forces in the Pacific region, said the US military believed North Korea had moved an unspecified number of Musudan missiles to its east coast.

The trajectory of the missile, if launched, is unclear as the North has failed to inform international bodies — as it did in previous instances — of the path it is expected to take. But it is unlikely to be aimed directly at the South.

The Musudan has a range of 3,500 km or more, according to South Korea, which would put Japan within range and may even threaten Guam, home to US bases. South Korea can be reached by the North’s short-range Scud missiles.

Foreign Minister Yun told a parliamentary hearing: “According to intelligence obtained by our side and the US, the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high.”

The US-South Korea Combined Forces Command in Seoul raised its “Watchcon 3” status, a normal condition, by one level to boost monitoring and increase the number of intelligence staff, a senior military official told the South’s Yonhap news agency.

Yonhap also reported that South Korea was planning to develop a missile system of its own.

It quoted an unidentified senior military official as saying this would involve early warning radars, ship-to-air and land-based systems, to be used in conjunction with US early warning satellites.

Yun said he was coordinating with China and Russia “to make efforts to persuade North Korea to change its attitude”.

China is North Korea’s sole major ally, although its influence over Pyongyang is open to question and Beijing has, in any event, endorsed the new sanctions. Moscow backed North Korea in Soviet times, though its influence has waned.

Russia warns against stoking tensions

LONDON: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Wednesday against heating up the North Korea crisis with military manoeuvres, but stressed that Moscow and Washington had a common stand. “On North Korea we have no differences with the United States,” Lavrov told journalists as he met with US Secretary of State John Kerry for talks on the sidelines of a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in London. “One just shouldn’t scare anyone with military manoeuvres and there’s a chance that everything will calm down,” he added in Russian, without specifying which countries were carrying out such militarised exercises. The North last week told foreign diplomats in Pyongyang they had until Wednesday to consider evacuation, fuelling speculation of a launch between now and the April 15 birthday celebrations for late founder Kim Il-Sung. — AFP
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