North Korea test-fires two short-range missiles

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The Independent Online

North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles today, South Korea's Defence Ministry said, a move that aggravates the already high tensions following Pyongyang's recent nuclear test and UN sanctions imposed as punishment.

The missiles were fired from the eastern coastal city of Wonsan today, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity citing department policy. He did not say what types of missiles were launched, but Yonhap news agency said they were ground-to-ship missiles.

North Korea had earlier issued a no-sail zone in waters off its east coast through 10 July for military drills. That designation has been viewed as a prelude to such missile tests.

The new launches are expected to exacerbate the tensions running high since Pyongyang's 25 May underground nuclear test and a series of missile firings. The UN Security Council adopted a tough sanctions resolution last month to punish the communist regime.

"We had expected that they will fire short-range missiles at any time," South Korea's Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told The Associated Press at a reception held at the US ambassador's residence to mark the US Independence Day, which falls this weekend. "It's not a good sign because they are demonstrating their military power."

The United States is seeking Chinese support to enforce the UN sanctions. Philip Goldberg, who is in charge of coordinating the implementation of sanctions against the North, was to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing on Thursday, the US Embassy said.

Earlier in the day, Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported that the North could fire a barrage of missiles in coming days, including ballistic Scud or Rodong rockets that the North is banned from testing under UN resolutions.

The North has also threatened to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile. Last month, a Japanese newspaper reported that the North could test-fire a long-range missile toward Hawaii as early as around July 4. The U.S. has increased defenses around Hawaii.

But Seoul's YTN television news network said today there are no signs of an imminent long-range missile launch.

The reported missile moves came after a North Korean ship — suspected of possibly carrying illicit weapons — changed course and was heading back the way it came after remaining under US surveillance for more than a week.

The North Korean ship is the first vessel monitored under the new UN sanctions that seek to clamp down on Pyongyang's trading of banned arms and weapons-related material by requiring UN member states to request inspections of ships suspected of carrying prohibited cargo.

The North has said it would consider the interception of its ships a declaration of war.

Separately, North and South Korea ended their latest talks over a troubled joint industrial project, apparently without progress, and failed to set a date for the next round of talks, the Unification Ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters that the two sides met for a little over one hour in the morning in the North Korean border city of Kaesong. He offered no details.

The two sides have been at odds over the fate of a South Korean worker who has been detained in the North since March for allegedly denouncing its political system. The North has rejected Seoul's repeated calls for the worker's freedom. It has also demanded that South Korean companies sharply increase wages for North Korean workers and fees paid for the use of the land.

As relations with South Korea have deteriorated, the North has halted all key joint projects except for the South Korean-run complex at Kaesong, a prominent symbol of past attempts at reconciliation.