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DPRK 'merciless' if invasion occurs

THE Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea is forging ahead with preparations to test-fire a missile but a launch does not appear imminent, Seoul's new unification minister said yesterday as Pyongyang warned of a "merciless" retaliation against any invasion.

The DPRK is ready to take "merciless actions" and "powerful military countermeasures" if Washington and its allies strike, said the Rodong Sinmun, DPRK's official newspaper, yesterday.

Tensions are high on the Korean peninsula, with the DPRK announcing last week that it would send a communications satellite into orbit as part of its space program ?? a claim neighboring governments believe is a cover for a long-range missile capable of reaching Alaska.

United States President Barack Obama dispatched his new envoy for the DPRK, Stephen Bosworth, to Asia for talks with China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Russia on the DPRK. The five members are seeking to convince the DPRK to abide by a disarmament-for-aid pact the regime signed in 2007.

With the disarmament talks stalled, analysts say that the DPRK is trying to grab Obama's attention and could carry out the launch toward the end of the month or early next month.

"I think various preparations are progressing, though a launch does not appear to be very imminent," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, an official recently appointed to head the ministry in charge of relations with Pyongyang, told reporters.

Upcoming joint military exercises between ROK and US troops have also touched off DPRK nerves. The US military has more than 28,000 troops in the ROK to help monitor a 1953 cease-fire brokered by the United Nations.

The joint exercises are due to begin next week.

Washington and Seoul have said that the exercises are a routine annual drill, and not preparations for any attack.

In Australia, ROK President Lee Myung-bak urged Pyongyang not to launch a missile.

"North Korea has taken such actions as firing a missile in the past at times that it sees as appropriate," Lee said. "I believe it is again trying to take such a strong action because a new US administration has been inaugurated."

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have warned that a launch, whether a missile or a satellite, would violate a UN Security Council resolution banning the DPRK from any ballistic missile activity.

Satellites and missiles use similar delivery systems, analysts say.

The DPRK unsuccessfully test-fired a long-range missile in 2006 but is believed to have made improvements in its missile capabilities since then.


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