North Korea missile launches raise fears


NORTH KOREA’S test-launch of two short-range missiles this week has raised anxiety levels in the region, as the regime in Pyongyang prepares to defy international opinion with the launch next month of a long-range rocket, which many believe is connected to its ballistic missile programme.

South Korean defence officials said North Korea had launched two surface-to-ship missiles from a site on its west coast early on Wednesday, a day after world leaders attending a nuclear security summit in Seoul urged the regime to cancel the rocket launch and return to six-party nuclear talks.

North Korea insists the forthcoming launch, which is expected around April 15th, to coincide with the centenary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, is designed to put an observation satellite into orbit.

The US, South Korea and Japan, however, say it would be a violation of UN security council resolutions banning North Korea from missile activity, as the same technology could be developed for use in multistage missiles, including those capable of hitting the US mainland.

If the launch goes ahead it will immediately kill off a deal, which was reached at the end of February, in which the US agreed to provide 240,000 tonnes of food aid provided that Pyongyang end its uranium enrichment programme and tests of long-range and nuclear missiles.

The prospect of a fourth North Korean long-range missile launch since 1998 is causing disquiet across the region, partly due to concerns it will veer off course and potentially dump debris on its neighbours’ territory.

Yesterday Indonesia’s foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, urged North Korea to abandon the launch, saying it would “undermine peace and stability in the region”. – (Guardian service)