Japan: North Korea warns ships near missile base

North Korea is warning ships to stay away from waters off an east coast missile base, a Japan Coast Guard spokesperson said on Friday, suggesting it could be preparing for a short-range missile test.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a government source as saying that vehicles with mobile launch pads have been seen in that area, which could indicate preparations for a short-range missile launch.

“Looking from the activities of the North’s military, it’s not a long-range ballistic missile but a short-range one that they’re trying to fire,” the South Korean source told Yonhap.

North Korea often fires short-range missiles as a part of military drills and usually times the launches for periods of political friction in order to ratchet up pressure.

The nautical warning was for waters off Kimchaek, which is about 40km south-west of the Musudan-ri missile base and the nearest urban area to the site from which the secretive country launched a long-range rocket in April.

A Japan Coast Guard ship heard the warning from North Korea on Thursday saying that ships should stay away from waters in the 130km range from Kimchaek until May 30, said Masahiro Ichijo, a spokesperson at the Japan Coast Guard.

The Japanese ship was patrolling in the Sea of Japan when it caught the warning, Ichijo said, adding it was not uncommon for countries to issue such warnings without going through an international organisation.

North Korea did not give the reason for the warning, Ichijo said. North Korea’s short-range missiles have a range of about 100km to 120km and the Japanese coast is about 860km from the North’s Musudan-ri missile site.

South Korea’s office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declined to confirm the report of activities near Kimchaek.

About a month ago, North Korea, which conducted its first and only nuclear test in October 2006, threatened a fresh nuclear test.

North Korea threatened to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile if the United Nations did not apologise to Pyongyang for punishing it for the April launch, widely seen as a disguised missile test that violated UN resolutions.

Analysts said the reclusive North, which has a history of using military threats to squeeze concessions out of global powers, had stepped up provocations in order to increase it bargaining leverage with the government of US President Barack Obama.—Reuters

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