Fresh artillery fire from North Korea heard, raising fears that the peninsula is on the brink of war.
|North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex is part of the atomic complex the government there detailed [File: Reuters]|
Secretive North Korea has detailed for the first time its expanded nuclear programme–a move seen by South Korea and its key ally, the US, as yet another provocation.
Pyongyang said on Tuesday that it has thousands of centrifuges at a new uranium enrichment plant as pressure built on China to rein in its ally amid heightened tensions on the peninsula.
Nuclear-armed Pyongyang’s revelations about its uranium enrichment, which gives it a second route to make a nuclear bomb, came a week after it fired a barrage of artillery shells at a South Korean island, killing four people including two civilians.
“Currently construction of a light-water reactor is in progress actively and a modern uranium enrichment plant equipped with several thousands of centrifuges, to secure the supply of fuels, is operating,” the Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported.
“Nuclear energy development projects will become more active for peaceful purpose in the future,” added the paper, according the state news agency KCNA.
Siegfried Hecker, co-director of the Centre for International Security and Co-operation, published a report on November 20, saying that he was recently allowed to visit North Korea’s Yongbyon atomic complex and saw “a modern clean centrifuge plant of more than a thousand centrifuges”.
The China factor
China has proposed to hold a summit meeting of the six parties who have been trying to rein in North Korea’s nuclear programme. Russia and North Korea are part of that group. The US and South Korean militaries started a third day of large-scale joint exercises off the peninsula’s west coast on
Tuesday in a show of force they say is meant to deter Pyongyang from staging further provocations.
|The November 23 shelling killed four and resulted in the resignation of south Korea’s defence minister[AFP]|
Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas, reporting from the South Korean capital of Seou,l said the South Korean government and its ally, the US, see this revelation as, “yet another provocation by what is almost an errant sibling, as far as the South Koreans are concerned, to try to get the attention of that favoured child, or indeed, of the adult in the relationship.”
“North Korea … wants to be taken more seriously, as it sees it, by the international community” said Ortigas.
“It wants the United States and South Korea to basically get back at the table and talk to them directly.”
Seoul said it will hold talks with Japan and the US in Washington in early December to discuss the North’s expanded nuclear programme, the attack on Yeonpyeong island and a Chinese proposal for emergency talks.
Relations between China and North Korea, once described as being as close as “lips and teeth”, have soured in recent years, especially since Pyongyang held nuclear test blasts in 2006 and again this year in May.
And in diplomatic cables released with the WikiLeaks web site show that while China has signalled its readiness to accept Korean reunification, privately, top Chinese officials have been distancing themselves from North Korea, describing their ally in one cable as “a spoiled child”.
But North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said last week that his isolated country’s friendship with China was “unbreakable”.