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N Korea deploys more missiles, bolsters troops, says Seoul

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Taepodong 1 missile. Wikipedia image

SEOUL (BNS): Fearing a threat from its neighbour as direct and serious, South Korea announced on Monday that North Korea had deployed new medium-range missiles and expanded its military strength to 1.2 million.

In a published document, South Korea said that the intermediate-range missiles could travel up to 3,000 km, enough to cover most of Asia, and carry a warhead of up to 650 kg.

Seoul's 2008 defence white paper was published as the North stepped up its threat against the South amidst apparent preparations to launch its longest-range missile.

The paper also said that the new ballistic missile posed a threat to US military bases in Guam. In the last two years, the North has boosted the number of its special operations troops by 50 percent to 180,000, focusing on night-time and mountain and urban warfare based on “the lessons it had learnt while watching the Iraq war,” the biannual defence report stated.

Although South Korean officials detected the new missile during a military parade in Pyongyang in 2007, this was the first time they have publicly confirmed its deployment.

The disclosure came as North Korea is reportedly preparing to test-fire a longer-range missile. In recent days, both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan have warned North Korea not to conduct a test.

The deployment comes amid heightened tension between the two Koreas, over South Korean leader Lee Myung-bak's decision to link economic aid to progress on de-nuclearisation.

Defence observers believe Pyongyang could test-fire its Taepodong-2 missile in a bid to improve its bargaining power with the new US administration over the stalled aid-for-disarmament deal.

The New York Times quoting Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that recent satellite imagery showed North Korea could be ready for the launch of its Taepodong-2 missile from the Musudan-ri missile base on the country’s east coast within days. The
Taepodong-2 is the North’s longest-range missile with an estimated range of more than 4,000 miles, putting Hawaii and Alaska under potential threat, the paper said.

Since the 1980s, North Korea has deployed Scud and Rodong missiles that put all of South Korea and most of Japan within their ranges. But it remains unclear whether the North has mastered the technology needed to miniaturise a nuclear warhead to be carried atop its missiles, the New York Times reported.

“North Korea’s conventional force, its development and reinforcement of weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons and missiles, and the forward deployment of its troops, are a direct and serious threat to our security,” Seoul defence report said.

The report said the overall size of the military had grown by 20,000 to 1.19 million since 2006, but the number of lightly equipped Special Forces trained swiftly to infiltrate South Korea had increased 50 percent to 180,000.

Yonhap news agency quoted Shin Won-Sik, the defence ministry's deputy of policy planning, as saying that North Korea’s aim appears to blur the line between friend and foe once a conflict erupts. It is estimated that North Korea's plutonium stock at 40kg is enough for at least five nuclear weapons.

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