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News of N. Korea Distorted, Seoul Says : Asia: Recent Western reports of large troop movements in the north are criticized as 'gross exaggerations.'


SEOUL — A South Korean official Saturday criticized Western news coverage of North Korea, calling recent reports of large-scale troop movements and shootouts with the Chinese "gross exaggerations and distortions."

"Based on our own intelligence, there is no reason to believe something serious is happening in North Korea," Kwon Byong Hyon, a Foreign Ministry official, said in a news briefing held to deal with a flurry of reports about North Korea that have circulated since the Communist nation abruptly withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in March.

South Korea does not normally play down any threat it perceives from its estranged northern brother. But as a result of what one analyst here called the growing "war of nerves" among Washington, Pyongyang, Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing over the nuclear issue, Kwon said recent reports were being hyped and confusing the public.

A Western diplomatic source in Seoul agreed that some reports seem to have been distorted. But he said the concern over Pyongyang's intentions is justified, given the unprecedented withdrawal from the nuclear treaty and its record as an international "rogue."

"Who's the last guy in the world you want with an atomic bomb, and most people will say Kim Il Sung," the diplomat said, referring to the North Korean president. "I'm on the side of, 'Let's not go blithely along thinking everything is fine.' "

But Rhee Sang Woo, a political science professor at Sogang University in Seoul, said Pyongyang's decision to withdraw from the treaty was mainly a tantrum to attract attention from the United States--a move that succeeded when Washington agreed to hold high-level talks in the near future.

"They need to improve relations with Tokyo and Washington for technological and economic aid, and they knocked on the door but there was no response," Rhee said. "So they chose the one policy of crybaby and they were quite successful."

In exchange for giving up any nuclear potential, Rhee said Pyongyang must be given an international guarantee for its security--for instance, a promise to intervene should South Korea or others attempt to invade.

He added that Pyongyang is paranoid about its security and, because it cannot afford to compete with the south on conventional weapons, chose the cheaper nuclear deterrent.

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