S. Korea says North's missile test won't raise tensions

Unification minister says launches of 2 short-range missiles into waters off western coast "routine test."

kim jon il missile pic  (photo credit: )
kim jon il missile pic
(photo credit: )
North Korea's latest test-firing of short-range missiles was a routine drill and will not heighten tensions as the region struggles to deal with the communist nation's nuclear weapons ambitions, a top South Korean official said Friday. The launches Thursday "were a routine missile test (North Korea) conducts every year," Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung told reporters. "I do not believe it will increase tensions on the Korean peninsula." An official at the South's Defense Ministry said the North fired two short-range missiles into the waters off its western coast. The missiles were believed to have a range of about 100 kilometers, the official said on condition of anonymity due to the issue's sensitivity. The missiles - a second barrage fired by the North in two weeks - demonstrated no new threat from the communist country, whose arsenal is known to include a variety of missiles, some believed able to reach parts of the United States. Still, the North has in the past used such actions to signal its impatience with the international community, and to make sure Pyongyang gets the attention it feels it deserves. Thursday's launches comes amid the latest deadlock in nuclear talks with the North, which missed a mid-April deadline to shut down its nuclear reactor under an agreement with the US and other regional powers. North Korea has refused to act until it receives US$25 million in funds that were frozen in a Macau's Banco Delta Asia. The money has been freed for release, but the North has yet to withdraw it. It is apparently waiting for an electronic transfer to ensure the funds are clean. The US has alleged that the money was tied to North Korea's suspected money laundering and counterfeiting. The banking dispute "will surely be resolved," Lee said Friday, adding "it was a matter of time" until a resolution is found. Lee, however, said he had "a negative view" on the possibility of South Korean financial institutions getting involved in helping the transfer of North Korean funds, which international banks are apparently reluctant to touch because of the US allegation. "This is not an issue between the South and the North, but an issue that needs to be resolved within the international financial system," he said. Meanwhile, Washington called the North's latest missile launches as "not constructive." "The United States and our allies believe that North Korea should refrain from testing missiles," said US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, accompanying US President George W. Bush to the G-8 summit in Germany. Johndroe said the North "should focus on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and fulfill its obligations" under a February agreement to shut down its sole nuclear reactor. South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Friday that the missiles were land-to-ship models, and were launched from Chungsan on the North's western coast. The report cited unidentified individuals. The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper North Korea had issued a warning banning ships from its western waters since Tuesday. It cited unidentified military officials. North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test explosion on Oct. 9, but experts do not believe it has a bomb design advanced enough to be placed atop a missile. Last month, it fired at least one short-range missile into waters off its eastern coast, which South Korean and US official played down as part of routine military drills.