SEOUL (AP) – South Korea launched a stealth warship capable of spying electronically on North Korea on Friday while the communist state’s leader told pilots at an air force base he was satisfied with their readiness to “beat back the enemy.”
Both developments underscored tensions on the Korean Peninsula stemming from the North’s alleged development of nuclear weapons and efforts by the South’s main ally, the United States, to get Pyongyang to scrap the program. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun attended the launch of the radar-evading warship, officials said. The vessel is named “Moonmu the Great,” after an ancient king who unified the Korean Peninsula more than 2,000 years ago.
The 137-metre-long ship is equipped for electronic monitoring as well as anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare, navy officials said. It is South Korea’s most advanced warship with a top speed of 29 knots. It carries 300 personnel.
The officials said South Korea already has an unspecified number of stealth warships.
“‘Moonmu the Great’ symbolizes South Korea’s defence technology and its will for independent defence,” Roh said at the launch in the southern port city of Ulsan.
North Korea’s KCNA news agency reported that communist leader Kim Jong Il inspected Flying Unit 887 on Thursday to brief pilots. It did not say where the air base was located.
“He noted with great satisfaction that they (pilots) are always maintaining a high degree of revolutionary vigilance and (are) fully prepared to courageously beat back the enemy any time,” the report said.
The visit came a day after North Korea warned that the Iraq war proved the need for it to have strong military deterrent against the United States.
Washington has accused the North of having a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 pact. President Bush says he wants to solve the problem peacefully, but he has not ruled out a military solution.
North Korea has said it intends to boost its military defences and has accused the United States of planning to invade after it is done fighting in Iraq.
On Wednesday, the UN Security Council refused to act on a U.S. request to condemn the communist country for pulling out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. China and Russia had strongly opposed such a resolution.
The Russian government ordered its officials on Friday to work out “preventive measures” to defend national interests and the population in the country’s Far East should the crisis on the Korean Peninsula spin out of control.
Cambodia, meanwhile, said it would send its foreign minister to North Korea later this month to try to ease tensions.
The withdrawal from the global nuclear arms control treaty officially took effect Thursday, three months after the North announced it was pulling out.
North Korea insists on direct talks with the United States over the nuclear dispute. Washington wants the problem to be addressed in a multilateral forum including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.