SKorea Says NKorean Missiles can Hit Key Targets

The ballistic missiles that North
Korea test-fired this weekend were likely capable of striking key
government and military facilities in South Korea, a defense
official said Sunday, amid growing concerns over Pyongyang's
firepower.

North Korean state media did not mention the launches but
boasted that the country's military could impose "merciless
punishment" on those who provoke it.

Pyongyang launched seven missiles into waters off its east coast
Saturday in a show of force that defied U.N. resolutions and drew
international condemnation.

The missiles appear to have traveled about 250 miles (400
kilometers), meaning they could have reached almost any point in
South Korea, an official at the South Korean Defense Ministry said
on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

The official said the exact details of the launches were still
under investigation.

The launches on July 4 appeared to be a poke 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.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff,
warned they were "very destabilizing, potentially."

But Vice President Joe Biden indicated the U.S. would not be
baited by attacks on the day Americans celebrated independence. On
ABC, he described the flurry of rockets as "attention-seeking
behavior."

He added: "I don't want to give the attention."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is concerned about
the missile tests, which defied Security Council resolutions. He
told reporters Sunday that North Korea's communist regime has
closed all doors to communication and dialogue.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose government assumed
the rotating European Union presidency on July 1, also condemned
the launches, calling the move "a conscious political
provocation."

North and South Korea, which fought a 1950-53 war, still face
off across the world's most heavily fortified border. The United
States, South Korea's key ally, has 28,500 troops stationed in the
country as a deterrent.

The North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary
that "our revolutionary forces have grown up today as the strong
army that can impose merciless punishment against those who offend
us," crediting the country's "military first" policy.

The commentary was carried Sunday by the official Korean Central
News Agency.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has been devoting much of the
country's scarce resources to his 1.2 million-member military under
the policy.

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

Yonhap said two of the seven missiles launched are believed to
be variants of Rodong missiles while the rest are believed to be
upgraded versions of Scud-C missiles.

The modified Scud-C versions have a range of up to 370 miles
(600 kilometers), which could hit most of South Korea. Rodong
missiles, meanwhile, have a range of up to 800 miles (1,300
kilometers), putting most parts of Japan within striking distance.

Yonhap said, however, that the range of the Rodong missiles
launched Saturday had been reduced apparently to improve accuracy.

The agency also said the North is believed to have many Scud
missiles positioned near the border with South Korea, capable of
reaching the Seoul metropolitan area within four to six minutes.

Another South Korean Defense Ministry official 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. He also spoke on condition of anonymity citing
department policy.

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.

Last month, it appeared to flout new U.N. sanctions again when a
ship believed to be carrying illegal weapons set sail. Yonhap said
Sunday, however, that the boat, which turned around a week ago, is
now headed toward Korean waters.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University,
predicted Pyongyang would now spend some time watching how the
international community reacts to the launches.

"There will be a cooling off period for the time being," he
said.


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