South Korea tells North to withdraw airline threat

Click to follow

South Korea told the North today to immediately withdraw a threat it made against the South's commercial airliners, which has forced them to stop flying near the airspace of the communist neighbour.

North Korea, which is preparing to test its longest-range Taepodong-2 missile, said yesterday it could not guarantee the safety of the South's commercial flights off the east coast of the peninsula where the missile base is located.

It linked the warning to next week's joint US-South Korea military drills, which start on Monday and have been held for years without major incident. The prickly North regularly criticises them as a prelude to invasion and nuclear war.

"Threatening civilian airliners' normal operations under international aviation regulations is not only against the international rules but is an act against humanity," South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said.

"The government urges the North to immediately withdraw the military threat against civilian airliners," Kim said.

Kim said the South's Korean Air and Asiana Airlines had been immediately notified of the threat following the North's announcement. The airliners responded by diverting flights that approach the country from the east, he said.

Kim said about 33 daily flights approached the South from the east with about 15 of them by South Korean airliners.

Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Air China said they had no plans to alter their flight paths.

The area would likely be in the flight path of the missile, which spy satellites indicate is still in an assembly facility. It takes North Korea at least a week to prepare the missile for flight after setting it vertically and moving to a launch pad, experts have said.

North Korea has said it is preparing to launch a satellite as part of its peaceful space programme. South Korean officials said they see no difference between a satellite and missile launch because they use the same technology and the same rocket.

"We've become quite used to our northern neighbour's threats. Its overall impact on airlines is limited," said Suh Jin-hee, an analyst at SK Securities in Seoul.

North Korean generals met the US-led United Nations command today for about 45 minutes of military talks at the Panmunjom truce village in the Demilitarised Zone, the UN command said without offering further details.

The two sides had their first such meeting in about seven years on Monday and the North, which requested the talks, complained about US military moves near the border and live-fire joint training, South Korean officials said.

"Even a slight accident may become a source of war and trigger off an all-out war of aggression against the DPRK (North Korea), the North's KCNA news agency quoted a state newspaper commentary as saying today of the drills.

Separately, the United States has sent Stephen Bosworth, its new special envoy for North Korea, to the region this week for talks on halting any moves by Pyongyang viewed as provocative. Bosworth will visit Seoul on the weekend.

Bosworth told Japanese officials in Tokyo he would like to visit the North at an early date and warned Pyongyang not to proceed with a missile launch, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.