North Korea test-fires missiles

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Tuesday, July 4, 2006

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The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) has test fired seven ballistic missiles including the long-range Taepodong-2 on Tuesday. The tests were criticised by officials from several countries, particularly Japan, Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the United States. The UN Security Council held a closed meeting today to discuss the developments.

A North Korean foreign ministry official, Lee Byong Dok, acknowledged the tests while speaking to reporters in Pyongyang. Japan's NHK television quoted the official as saying, "This is an issue of national sovereignty, and other countries do not have the right to judge. We are not bound by any agreement regarding missiles." North Korean media made no mention of the launches.[1]

Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said Wednesday that "there could be one or two more" launches of short or medium-ranged missiles.[2]

Major South Korean newspaper reported Thursday that Pyongyang got three or four missiles on launch pads. The missiles are thought to be short- or medium-range.[3]

The missile launches comes five days after US president George W Bush, after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, warned North Korea on test-launching a long range missile.[4]

The Tests

North Korea Missile Launches
(Source: CNN)[5]
# Type Time (Local) Time (UTC)
1 Scud-C 03:33 am 18:33
2 Nodong or Scud-C 04:04 am 19:04
3 Taepodong-2 05:01 am 20:01
4 Scud-C 07:12 am 22:12
5 Nodong 07:31 am 22:31
6 Nodong 07:32 am 22:32
7 (unknown) 05:20 pm 8:20

The first missile was launched at 3:33 a.m. JST Wednesday (1833 UTC Tuesday) and fell into the Sea of Japan, between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese mainland.

According to CNN, at least three missiles were launched including a Taepodong-2, which failed (or was aborted) in less than a minute. The Taepodong-2 is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with an estimated range of up to 6,000 km (3,730 miles). This would bring parts of the United States like Alaska and Hawaii within striking range of the missile. The ability to achieve this range has so far not been demonstrated in a test.

A fourth short-range missile was launched at 7:12 a.m. JST (2212 UTC), according to CNN.

Contrary to information given by US officials, Russia says that Pyongyang launched as many as ten missiles yesterday. This was also earlier reported by the South Korean agency Yonhap.

The launch of the seventh missile was reported by South Korean and Japanese officials on Wednesday. Media reports said the latest launch was at 17:22 JST(8:22 UTC). The missile landed six minutes after the launch according to Japan's Kyodo News agency.

Two of the missiles were launched from a site other than the one intelligence officials have watched for weeks ahead of a possible long-range missile test, a senior United States State Department official said. Two senior U.S. State Department officials said on Tuesday that fuel trucks had departed the site where the Taepodong-2 sits on a launching pad, indicating that a test may occur in the near future.

The North Korean removal of the fuel trucks and other auxiliary equipment meant the North Koreans may have finished fueling the missile, said the officials, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the information. Should the North Koreans have completed the fueling "all they would need to do now is press the button," one source said.

Reactions

The test launches were criticised by many countries and led to an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council the day after the initial launches.

The US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley called the test launches "provocative behaviour" and confirmed that the Taepodong-2 went down just 35 seconds after being launched.

"It's the Fourth of July, and they know we are watching and they like to play with us," said one senior US official, who has followed the North Korean program for years.

Japanese and South Korean military have been placed on high alert following the tests. The Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that continued talks are needed to defuse the current standoff, adding "We need both pressure and dialogue, ... There will be no solution without dialogue."

NORAD was put on heightened alert in the past two weeks and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency told CNN that two missiles for interception of ballistic missiles were activated in California prior to test launches.

The South Korean Senior Security Secretary, Suh Choo-Suk said that the tests have deepened North Korea's isolation and called for a halt to the "provocative activity" and a return to the six-party talks and international efforts for nuclear non-proliferation, adding "North Korea should be held responsible for all the consequences."

In a closed meeting today Japan, Britain and the United States prepared a UN resolution that demanded that all nations withhold technology, goods and funding that potentially could be used for North Korea's missile program. It also called on the North Korea to immediately stop the development, testing and deployment of ballistic missiles. No voting on the resolution is expected today.

Japan announced Wednesday that they would suspend charter flights between the two countries as well has bringing a ferry service to a six-months halt. This means that the only passenger and trade link would be closed for half a year. The country is also considering a call for sanctions through the UN.

The South Korea has said that that it will withhold 500,000 tons of rice and 100,000 tons of fertilizer aid to their northern neighbours.

The United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan have stressed that the test launches will not bring an end to any diplomatic negotiations.

China, the North Korea's closest ally, called the tests "regrettable", but indicated that they would favor a more lenient UN statement. However, they did not defend the launches in the UN meeting on Wednesday.

Stocks and currencies fell in Asia after the test launches, but investors considered it a short-term impact based on experiences from previous North Korean launches. [6]

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