Sat, Dec 30, 2006 - Page 5 News List

South's new report warns North Korea is a `serious threat'

NUCLEAR WARNING The South says the North has enough material for five bombs, but that the one tested was smaller than a standard nuclear weapon

AFP , SEOUL

North Korea's nuclear and conventional weapons pose a serious threat to South Korea, Seoul's defense ministry warned yesterday.

The ministry, in a biennial White Paper, said the communist state produced an estimated 30kg of plutonium over the past three years -- enough to make up to five atomic bombs.

The North had also acquired some 200 artillery pieces which could strike Seoul when sited along the border, and about 40 percent of its 820 fighter jets were just north of the frontier -- minutes away from the South's capital.

"Considering the seriousness of threats from the nuclear test and weapons of mass destruction [WMDs] we defined the North's military strength as a serious threat in this year's edition," Major-General Chung Seun-Jo, the ministry's policy planner, told reporters.

The White Paper refused, however, to call the hardline communist state a fully fledged nuclear power, despite its Oct. 9 test which sparked international alarm and UN sanctions.

The government sees the test as a partial success, Chung was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying.

"We believe [the device] is less powerful than a normal nuclear weapon and little more powerful than a conventional bomb," Chung said.

US intelligence officials at the time estimated the force of the blast at as low as the equivalent of 180 tonnes of TNT, but confirmed it was caused by a nuclear device.

Some 680,000 South Korean troops, backed by 29,500 US soldiers, are confronting the potential threat from the North's 1.1 million-strong military.

"North Korea's conventional military strength, nuclear test, WMDs and deployment of its armaments along the front line are serious threats to our security," the report said.

It said the North "is estimated to have obtained an additional 30kg of plutonium if it reprocessed spent fuel rods in 2003 and 2005 as it had claimed."

The North is also believed to possess up to 14kg of plutonium it obtained in the early 1990s.

Six-nation talks aimed at persuading the north to scrap its nuclear programs ended in apparent stalemate a week ago.

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