Sunday, May 31, 2009
May 30: South Korean marines man at their positions at the South Korea's western Yeonpyong Island, near the disputed sea border with North Korea.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has moved its most advanced long-range missile to a new launch site and has banned ships from the waters off its west coast through the end of July, news reports said Monday, moves that threaten to exacerbate tensions on the peninsula.
The missile, which has arrived at the Dongchang-ni launch site on the northwest coast, is believed to be a version of the Taepodong-2 rocket that the North fired on April 5 saying it was a satellite launch, the South Korean Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported.
The North could fire the missile as early as June 16 when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and President Barack Obama hold a summit in Washington, the paper said, citing unidentified officials in Washington and Seoul.
Another mass-market South Korean paper, JoongAng Ilbo, carried a similar report.
The North has also designated a large area off its west coast as a "no-sail" zone through the end of next month, an indication Pyongyang could stage armed provocations around the disputed sea border, the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing unidentified intelligence officials. The paper also said the North could launch the long-range missile in two weeks.
Seoul's Defense Ministry declined to confirm these reports, saying it does not comment on intelligence matters. But late last week, South Korean officials said U.S. satellites detected apparent preparations to transport a missile for a test launch.
A new missile launch would significantly exacerbate the tensions running high after the North's April rocket launch and its second-ever nuclear test last week. World powers have been discussing at the United Nations how to punish Pyongyang for the atomic blast.
The North's Taepodong-2 rocket flew about 2,000 miles on April 5. The missile being readied for a new launch is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM with a range of up to 4,000 miles, the JoongAng Ilbo reported, citing an unnamed South Korean official.
That would put Alaska within striking range.
In late April, the North had threatened to conduct nuclear and ICBM tests unless the U.N. Security Council apologized for criticizing its rocket launch. Pyongyang conducted an underground atomic blast last week. On Friday, it also threatened to take a further "self-defensive" measure if it is provoked by the Security Council. That threat was seen as referring to an ICBM test.
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North Korea Missiles
North Korea has been building the new launch site at Dongchang-ni for years. Last year, Seoul's Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee told parliament that its construction was about 80 percent complete. Monday's newspaper reports said that the construction is near completion.
The North's missile and nuclear programs have been considered a top security concern for the region, though the regime is not yet believed to have mastered the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a missile.
North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. International negotiations aimed at ridding the North of nuclear capabilities have been stalled since last year.