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General criticizes Korean test-fires

Kelly Olsen Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea – The top U.S. military commander in South Korea criticized last week’s missile test launches by North Korea today, saying the country remains a threat despite its recent moves toward dismantling its nuclear program.

Gen. B.B. Bell said he welcomed Pyongyang’s efforts to live up to a February commitment to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, part of a program he called “extremely provocative.”

But he also noted the communist country still retains the capability to attack Seoul with conventional artillery and special forces. “This is a very real threat which cannot be ignored,” he told reporters at the National Press Club in Seoul.

Last week, North Korea test-fired three surface-to-surface missiles that landed in the North’s territorial waters, according to Defense Department officials. It was the third time in a month that North Korea has test-fired a short-range missile, after launches May 25 and June 7.

“What I find very disturbing is that the North continues to test advanced short-range missiles,” Bell said.

“These are designed to be used on this peninsula,” he said, adding that they have enough range not only to threaten Seoul – near the border with North Korea – but other cities as well.

“These were not failure missile tests,” Bell said. “They were successful missile tests.”

Bell said he did not know the reason North Korea continues to conduct such missile launches, but questioned why the country chose to do so while officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, were visiting the country.

“I can’t gauge Kim Jong Ils’s intent, and I won’t try to,” Bell said, referring to North Korea’s leader. “I will tell you we are ready and capable.”

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