North Korea accuses US of war mongering

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The Independent Online

The sound, fury and general belligerence pouring out of North Korea in the direction of Washington will intensify this week with the start of a month-long joint military exercise between the United States and Seoul.

The sound, fury and general belligerence pouring out of North Korea in the direction of Washington will intensify this week with the start of a month-long joint military exercise between the United States and Seoul.

Pyongyang, engaged in a campaign to bamboozle the Americans into direct bilateral talks, provided a foretaste yesterday by accusing the US of staging massive war games to prepare for an attack on the Communist state.

Nuclear war could erupt on the Korean peninsula "at any moment", and North Korea would take "a self-defensive measure when it thinks that a US pre-emptive attack is imminent," said its official news agency, KCNA. It also accused the US of stepping up spy flights in readiness for war, saying that there were more than 180 cases of "aerial espionage" in February.

The US military command in South Korea, where there are 37,000 American troops, said the joint military exercise – "Foal Eagle", due to begin on Tuesday – was unrelated to the dispute with Pyongyang. This exercise will overlap with a second planned for later in the month. Both are "defence-orientated", said a spokesman.

The US has repeatedly said it has no plans to invade North Korea, which has a large arsenal of weapons trained on the South – home to 47million people. But the US has resisted demands for direct talks, saying it will not be blackmailed by nuclear threats.

This edginess has been increased by concerns over North Korea's missile development programme. The Americans believe it has a three-stage Taepodong-2 missile which can reach the US west coast. A senior Japanese official was yesterday quoted saying that the North may soon test-fire a Taepodong ballistic missile by shooting it into the sea. His comments came after a Japanese newspaper reported that Pyongyang tested a rocket booster last month. North Korea fired a multi-stage Taepodong missile over Japan's main island in 1998, triggering widespread alarm.

The stand-off worsened when the Americans concluded that Pyongyang had carried out a threat to turn on an atomic reactor. The North Koreans said it will be used to generate electricity, but US intelligence believes that in the past it has produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for one nuclear warhead.

US officials have also said that North Korean scientists are preparing to fire up a plutonium reprocessing plant.

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