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North Korea Test-Fires Missile Off Its East Coast

March 10, 2003|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL — North Korea test-fired another missile off its east coast today in what military experts here saw as an effort to keep tensions high in the running standoff with the United States.

The South Korean Defense Ministry said the missile was fired at about noon local time from the coast of North Korea's South Hamkyoung province and traveled about 66 miles before splashing into the Sea of Japan, or East Sea as it is called by Koreans.

The ministry said the missile was believed to be some type of ground-to-vessel cruise missile like the one that caused consternation when it was fired Feb. 24, a day before the inauguration of South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun.

"We are at the moment trying to assess whether the test-fire was successful or not," the ministry said in a statement.

Although the two rockets fired most recently were both short-range missiles -- unlike the Taepodong missile fired over Japan in 1998 that sparked significant jitters -- the latest firings have been watched warily because of North Korea's other provocative moves in recent weeks.

Chi Man Won, a military analyst in Seoul, said he believed that the regime in Pyongyang is reacting to international demands that it dismantle its recently restarted nuclear program.

"This is a familiar North Korea technique. They try to overcome one crisis by creating another crisis," Chi said.

Contrary to initial reports that the Feb. 24 test involved an obsolete Chinese-designed Silkworm missile, intelligence analysts now believe that the North Koreans are testing a newer or improved missile.

South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young Kil testified Friday before the National Assembly here that the missile tested should travel up to 100 miles, but might have exploded short of its goal. "Considering that the range was longer than that of missiles that North Korea has been known to possess in the past, we concluded that the launch was a test of a newly developed cruise missile," Cho said.

In Tokyo, the chief of Japan's Defense Agency, Shigeru Ishiba, said today's missile didn't appear to target Japan.

"We don't think this will have any significant impact on our national safety, but we are monitoring it closely," he told a parliamentary session, Associated Press reported.

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