N Korea 'to launch 10 missiles'

North Korea is preparing 10 short-range missiles for a mass test-launch, South Korean news reports say, adding that the South Korean military is on alert, reproted BBC.

North Korea is thought to have fired at least one missile two days ago.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper and Yonhap news agency quoted intelligence reports that the new launches were imminent.

A South Korean government source said a US satellite had detected preparations of up to 10 short-range missiles at Chodo, an island navy base.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper said South Korean military authorities were watching after the reports that North Korea could fire several short-range surface-to-ship and ship-to-ship missiles.

"Agents say some dozen KN-01 surface-to-ship and Styx ship-to-ship missiles are deployed ready for firing in an area near Chodo," the newspaper said.

"It would be an unprecedented number of missile tests if the North fires all of them," the newspaper noted, adding that in 2006, North Korea tested seven medium-and long-range ballistic missiles.

It said the KN-01 is an improved version of the Chinese Silkworm missile, and has a range of 110-120 km (70-75 miles). The Styx has a range of 46-50 km (28-31 miles).

"Intelligence authorities here seem to think North Korea will fire at least five to seven missiles, given that a navigation ban in waters in the area holds until 15 October and the North is still ordering ships to move elsewhere," the paper said.

South Korean media speculated that the possible missile launches from the North could be a response to the South's current celebrations of the 60th anniversary of its armed forces.

Friday is also the anniversary of North Korea's ruling communist party, and observers are keen to see if the North's leader Kim Jong-il makes an appearance, after he was believed to have suffered a stroke in August.

The Chosun Ilbo quoted a South Korean military source as saying: "If North Korea fires missiles en masse, it can hardly be part of a routine exercise. Its intentions should be analysed in various ways."

Neither the defence ministry nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff office in Seoul would comment on the reports.

The North fired up to two short-range missiles into the Yellow Sea from Chodo on Tuesday in what Seoul officials described as "routine military exercises".

On Wednesday, South Korea's top military official, Gen Kim Tae-young, said he believed the North was trying to develop a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile.

He said it was not clear if the North had succeeded yet.

North Korea tested a nuclear device in October 2006, and some analysts estimated it had built eight or more atomic bombs.

But it was not believed that any of the bombs were small enough to be fitted onto a missile.

North Korea agreed last year to shut down its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon in return for fuel aid.

But a disagreement over how to verify Pyongyang's account of its nuclear activities has led the US to delay removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In return, North Korea said it would take steps to restore the Yongbyon reactor to plutonium production.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday that North Korea must meet proper standards for verifying its nuclear disarmament.

She and other officials refused to discuss the content or outcome of talks held by US negotiator Christopher Hill and North Korean officials last week.

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