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Security tightened as ROK summit begins

THE Republic of Korea imposed heavy security yesterday for a summit with Southeast Asian leaders following nuclear and missile tests by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea that have frayed nerves across the region.

The summit venue of Seogwipo - on the island of Jeju off the southern coast - is the farthest city away from the North. Still, a nervous South Korean government is taking no chances, positioning a surface-to-air missile outside the venue aimed toward the north.

Some 5,000 police officers, including approximately 200 commandos, and special vehicles that can analyze sarin gas and other chemicals have been deployed nearby, said Kim Soo-byung, a presidential security spokesman.

Leaders of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations began arriving for the two-day summit, which officially begins today.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The summit, which is being held to commemorate 20 years of relations between South Korea and the bloc, has been in the works for months. South Korea says it sees the meeting as an opportunity to raise its diplomatic profile and solidify economic ties with the region.

But North Korea's bout of saber-rattling, including last week's underground nuclear test and a subsequent series of short-range missile launches off its eastern coast, threatens to steal the limelight.

South Korean officials said last Saturday that spy satellites had spotted signs that the North may be preparing to transport a long-range missile to a launch site.

The UN Security Council is still weighing how to react to the North's belligerent moves that have earned Pyongyang criticism from the United States, Europe, Russia and China.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last Saturday that North Korea's progress on nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is "a harbinger of a dark future" and has created an urgent need for more pressure on the government to change.

Gates, speaking at an annual meeting of defense and security officials in Singapore, said Pyongyang's efforts pose the potential for an arms race in Asia that could spread beyond the region.


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