- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

SEOUL — Tensions mounted over North Korea’s threat to test its first atomic bomb, with shots ringing out yesterday along the border with South Korea and with Japan warning of harsh sanctions if Pyongyang goes nuclear.

With a test expected as early as today, the U.N. Security Council issued a stern statement Friday urging North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and warning of unspecified consequences if the isolated, communist regime doesn’t comply.

Jittery nations have warned that a test would unravel regional security and could trigger an arms race.

A midday incursion yesterday by North Korean troops into the southern side of the no man’s land separating North and South Korea stoked the unease.

South Korean soldiers rattled off 40 warning shots at the five communist troops who crossed the center line of the demilitarized zone, the inter-Korean buffer.

It was not clear whether the North Korean advance was intended as a provocation or was an attempt to go fishing at a nearby stream, an official at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on the condition of anonymity, citing official policy. No one was hurt, and the North Koreans retreated.

Such border skirmishes are rare. The incursion yesterday was the second this year, the official said.

Meanwhile, world powers were stepping up diplomatic efforts to avert a nuclear test. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was to visit Beijing today for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and then proceed to Seoul tomorrow for talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

A State Department spokesman, Kurtis Cooper, said yesterday that the United States was concerned about North Korea’s threat to test its first atomic bomb and that the department was closely monitoring the tensions.

Also yesterday, South Korea’s nuclear envoy announced he will visit Beijing tomorrow for two days of talks with Chinese officials about the threatened nuclear test.

In a separate statement from Tokyo, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said it was prepared to push for punitive measures at the United Nations if the North goes ahead with the test.

“If North Korea conducts a nuclear weapons test despite the concerns expressed by international society, the Security Council must adopt a resolution outlining severely punitive measures,” the ministry said.

Japan plans to step up economic sanctions against North Korea, tighten trade restrictions and freeze additional North Korea-linked bank accounts if a nuclear test occurs, Japan’s Nihon Keizai newspaper reported.

North Korea’s nuclear weapon would kill up to 200,000 people if used against a city such as Seoul or Tokyo, the London Sunday Telegraph reported in a story filed from Pyongyang, which cited unidentified Russian military specialists.

They say that the weapon, with the same 20-kiloton yield as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, is about 10 feet long and weighs 4 tons. It is too big to fit onto any missile Kim Jong-il’s regime possesses, but if detonated above ground, it could destroy everything within five square miles.

The Nagasaki atomic bomb used plutonium, an element now being manufactured by North Korea, as its explosive core.

The U.N. statement adopted Friday urged North Korea to return to six-nation negotiations aimed at persuading the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for security guarantees and badly needed economic aid.

Those talks — which involve the United States, China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea — have been stalled since late last year, when North Korea boycotted the negotiations in response to American economic sanctions.

A North Korea analyst in China, the North’s closest ally, said only the removal of the sanctions could dissuade the North.

“North Korea has already made a decision to carry out a test,” said Li Dunqiu of China’s State Council Development Research Center, a Cabinet-level think tank, but “if the U.S. removes sanctions … then tensions can be eased. Otherwise, launching a nuclear test is unavoidable for North Korea.”

The United States imposed economic restrictions on North Korea last year to punish it for counterfeiting and money laundering.

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