Japan cuts N Korea aid after missile firing


An outraged Japan said yesterday it would break off diplomatic talks with North Korea and refuse to give any food aid to the Stalinist state after Pyongyang test-launched a new long-range missile over Japanese territory.

The latest generation missile, which officials yesterday said contained three separate stages, was fired on Monday afternoon.

The final stage landed in the Pacific Ocean after flying over northern Japan, clearly demonstrating North Korea's ability to strike at any major Japanese city.

The Defence Agency dispatched ships to the area in the hope of recovering debris to give scientists a better idea of the missile's capability.

"The public has a high degree of anxiety and I am extremely concerned," the Prime Minister, Mr Keizo Obuchi, was quoted as saying. "If the firing was intentional, it's quite fair to say that a war could have broken out," said Mr Yoshiro Mori, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

After Mr Obuchi met senior cabinet officials, the government said Japan would refuse any food aid requests to help the North Koreans after three years of drought and floods have created widespread shortages.

It also would suspend aid for a nuclear power station meant to help North Korea develop energy supplies and end talks aimed at normalising diplomatic relations.

"We had been prepared to engage in talks to normalise bilateral relations unconditionally, but we will change this policy," the government said in a statement. "Depending on future developments, the government is ready to consider further measures."

Japan said it would seek to raise the issue in some fashion at the opening of the UN General Assembly later this month.

China, a key player in North Korean affairs, meanwhile called for negotiations by all sides to ease tensions "and safeguard peace and stability on the Korean peninsula".

South Korean Defence Ministry officials said the missile was a Taepo Dong 1, a newer version of the medium-range Rodong 1, which was test-launched in 1993, with a range of 2,000 km.

The South Korean Defence Minister, Mr Cheon Yong Taek, and the Japanese Defence Agency chief, Mr Fukushiro Nukaga, agreed at a meeting in Tokyo that the two nations would jointly investigate North Korea's weapons programme.

"I think the ties between our country and North Korea will grow more difficult from now on," said the Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr Masahiko Komura.

He said that discussions on construction of two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea would be postponed indefinitely.

Japan had committed itself to providing $1 billion for the construction of the reactors as part of a scheme to meet North Korea's energy needs in return for a freeze on Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

Mr Komura said Japan would decide its further course of action on both the KEDO issue and how to respond to the missile launch through consultations with South Korea and the US.

Military analysts said the missile launch was probably a combination of wanting to warn the US about stalled peace talks and to show off the new version to potential buyers.

While cash-strapped and short of food, North Korea has an active arms sales programme worth up to an estimated $1 billion annually.

At the moment Japan does not have the capability to defend itself against such missiles but is considering joining a sophisticated US anti-missile defence shield.

Japanese officials did not disclose the fact that the missile overflew Japan until 11 hours after the launch, even though they had the information shortly after it happened.