- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 8 (UPI) — South Korea's Defense Ministry confirmed Saturday that North Korea is planning to fire another missile in the next few days.

Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Hwang Young-soo said the government had intelligence that North Korea was preparing to test-fire an anti-ship cruise missile from its northeastern coast, as early as this weekend.

Indications of a pending missile test came Friday, when North Korea announced an "exclusion zone" in the Sea of Japan from March 8 to 11. Pyongyang established an almost identical sea exclusion zone when it tested the independently developed missile on Feb. 24, the day before the inauguration of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. Sea exclusion zones are established in international waters by countries when they want to keep ships and other vessels out of an area for military purposes.

"North Korea has been controlling the movement of ships and making certain areas off-limits in the East Sea (Sea of Japan), which appear to confirm reports that a missile test is imminent," Hwang said. "The test-firing is likely to be conducted between this weekend and early next week."

The missile, which has an estimated range of up to 160 kilometers (100 miles), may be fired from the beach at Sinsang-ri, in the northeastern province of Hamkyong, into international waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan, he said.

Seoul's Defense Minister Cho Young-kil told a parliamentary hearing Friday that last week's missile appeared to have exploded in midair because of defects, leading analysts to conclude it was a failed attempt to test a new type of guided cruise missile.

The launch did not violate its voluntary moratorium on long-range ballistic missile tests because it was a guided cruise missile of shorter range.

"North Korea usually tests its missiles between March and November. We understand that the North tested its missile early this year because of the current situation," Cho said, referring the months-long standoff over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program.

"It's part of North Korea's brinkmanship tactic to bring the United States to direct dialogue," he said. Seoul's defense officials said the North's missile test was part of its regular army drills.

The North's recent military maneuvers, highlighted by Sunday's shadowing of a U.S. spy plane by North Korean MiG-29 jets, come amid ongoing joint war games by the United States and South Korea, which Pyongyang has condemned as preparations for an invasion.

Seoul's Defense Ministry Friday warned North Korea against further military activities, saying they had caused a "dangerous situation" and could bring "serious consequences" to the security of the Korean peninsula. The minister urged North Korea to "act in a more prudent and responsible manner."

U.S. officials said they have no indication this latest test will violate that moratorium but acknowledge their visibility into North Korean military matters is limited. North Korea could launch a 2,000-kilometer range Taopodong or 1,000 kilometer-range NoDong with little or no notice, according to U.S. officials.

The 1998 launch over Japan of what turned out to be a three-stage Taopodong missile caught the United States more or less by surprise. U.S. ships and surveillance aircraft had been in place for weeks in anticipation of the missile test.

However, North Korea feigned that the test had been aborted. When U.S. ships and assets began to move away, Pyongyang quickly launched the missile, catching the United States and Japan by surprise. After the test and under pressure from Japan, North Korea agreed not to test any more long-range ballistic missiles.

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