- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

SOUTH KOREA

North’s test plans stir concerns in Seoul

KWANGJU — South Korea raised the issue of North Korea’s missile program yesterday amid jitters over the communist state’s preparations for a long-range missile test, officials said.

The meeting, on the sidelines of celebrations marking the sixth anniversary of a landmark inter-Korean summit, came a day after Seoul and Washington confirmed that the North is preparing for a potential test.

“The word missile was mentioned in a metaphorical style, but there was no discussion of this matter,” said South Korean spokesman Yang Chan-seok. The meeting involved South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok and Kim Yong-dae, who led a 140-member North Korean delegation to four days of cultural and sports events in Kwangju, southwest of Taegu.

AUSTRALIA

Howard hits release of hard-line cleric

CANBERRA — Prime Minister John Howard wrote to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday to protest the decision to free a hard-line Islamic cleric tied to the 2002 Bali bombings.

The criticism came before a planned June 26 summit of Mr. Howard and Gen. Yudhoyono in Indonesia. The summit had been expected to cap an improvement in ties after a flap over Australia granting asylum to 42 persons from Indonesia’s restive Papua province.

Cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was released Wednesday after serving time for the Bali bombings that killed 202 persons, including 88 Australians. Mr. Howard said he told Gen. Yudhoyono in the letter of his disappointment and concern at the decision to free the cleric.

INDONESIA

Japanese gunboats to fight terrorism

JAKARTA — Indonesia and Japan exchanged diplomatic notes yesterday on Tokyo’s provision of three patrol boats to fight piracy and deter terrorism in the Malacca Strait.

The grant commitment of the 27-meter boats, which have an average speed of 30 knots, was formalized at a ceremony here. It marks the first time Tokyo provides military equipment to another country as official development assistance, ending a decades-old policy of not exporting weapons.

The transfer, worth up to $16.8 million, was in response to an Indonesian request in 2003 by President Megawati Sukarnoputri for help in procuring vessels to beef up Indonesia’s marine patrol capabilities.

Weekly notes …

Indonesian soldiers wearing heat-retardant clothing dug through volcanic debris yesterday trying to reach two men trapped in an underground emergency shelter on the country’s most volatile volcano. The fierce heat melted their shovels and the tires on a mechanical digger brought in to plow through six feet of debris covering the bunker. Rescuers made contact with one of the men late Wednesday, but their phones no longer were working and it was not clear whether the men were still alive. … Manila residents were warned yesterday to stay away from one of the most dangerous volcanos in the Philippines as it rumbled and spewed ash. The Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology said residents should stay at least 21/2 miles away from 5,134-foot-high Mount Bulusan on the southern tip of Luzon.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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