North Korea fires short-range missile

TOKYO (AP) - North Korea test-fired a ground-to-ship missile Tuesday, Japanese officials said, just days after Tokyo launched its first spy satellites into orbit to keep watch over Pyongyang's missile and suspected nuclear arms programs. 

Japan's launch angered the communist state and it threatened to test-fire a missile. 

Its decision to do so Tuesday has added to growing fears here that the reclusive state may take advantage of the war in Iraq to escalate its missile and nuclear programs. 

The short-range missile, with a range of about 60 kilometers (37 miles), was fired from the northwestern coast of the Korean Peninsula, Japanese defense agency and transport ministry officials said. 

North Korea fired a long-range missile that flew over Japan and plunged into the Pacific Ocean in 1998. It is believed to possess missiles that may reach parts of the United States. 

North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles in late February and early March amid tensions over its suspected nuclear weapons programs. 

Washington and South Korea have criticized the tests as attempts to force the United States into direct talks. 

With the United States focused on the war in Iraq, some experts say North Korea might exploit the opportunity to test long-range missiles or reprocess spent nuclear fuel to make atomic bombs. 

Defense Agency spokesman Manabu Shimamoto denied that Tuesday's missile was a direct threat to Japan and that it appeared to be aimed away from Japan. 

The agency is still checking into details such as where it fell, he said. 

"We believe it is a ground-to-ship missile that is impossible to reach Japan,'' Shimamoto said. 

The Korean nuclear crisis flared in October last year, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a nuclear program. 

Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipments, and the North retaliated by expelling U.N. monitors, withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarting a nuclear reactor. - AP 

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