Missiles Show NKorea Skills Improving: Officials

North Korea's weekend missile launches
show the communist country is improving its capability and accuracy
and are a cause for concern, officials said Sunday.

North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles into waters off
its east coast Saturday in a show of military firepower that defied
U.N. resolutions and drew international condemnation and concern.
It also fired four short-range missiles Thursday believed to be
cruise missiles.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency - citing a South Korean
government source it did not identify - reported that five of the
seven ballistic missiles landed in the same area, indicating their
accuracy has improved.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said North Korea's
capabilities were getting better.

"If you look at their most recent efforts, the most worrying
thing is not their current capacity in terms of distance or scope
but how they have improved," he told the Nine Network on Sunday.

"We have seen improvements regrettably in their technology and
their approach," he said, emphasizing the latest missile tests
were clearly a provocative act aimed at the U.S.

Saturday's launches on U.S. Independence Day appeared to be a
slap at Washington as it moves to enforce U.N. as well as its own
sanctions against the isolated regime for its May 25 nuclear test.

An official, speaking on condition of anonymity citing
department policy, said the Defense Ministry was investigating the
launches and it would take about a week to complete an analysis.

He also said no signs of additional missile launches had been
detected, but more were possible given North Korea warned ships to
stay away from the area through July 10.

North Korea's state news agency did not mention the launches. In
Washington, the White House had no immediate comment.

South Korea said Saturday that the missiles likely flew more
than 250 miles (400 kilometers), apparently landing in waters
between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

South Korea and Japan both condemned the launches, with Tokyo
calling them a "serious act of provocation." Britain and France
issued similar statements.

Russia and China, both allies of North Korea, expressed concern
over an "escalation of tension in the region," the Russian
Foreign Ministry said Saturday in a statement after a meeting in
Moscow.

Separately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in
a statement that Beijing "hopes all parties will keep calm and
restrained and jointly safeguard the overall peace and stability in
this region."

The North has engaged in a series of acts this year widely seen
as provocative. It fired a long-range rocket it said was a
satellite in early April, and in late May it carried out its second
underground nuclear test following the first in late 2006.

The country has also stoked tensions with rival South Korea and
last month threatened "thousand-fold" military retaliation
against the U.S. and its allies if provoked.

Yonhap also reported that the North is believed to have spent
between $34 million and $46 million in test-firing the seven
missiles Saturday. It cited no source.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said it cannot confirm the
report.


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