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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 07:35 GMT
Japan threatens sanctions
The Aegis-equipped destroyer Myoukou
Japan has stepped up patrols near North Korea
Japan has threatened to impose economic sanctions on North Korea if it tests a ballistic missile, according to government officials quoted by Japanese media.

North Korea has tested two short range missiles in recent weeks, prompting speculation it is preparing to launch a longer-range version similar to one it fired over Japan in 1998.

Japanese government sources said possible sanctions would include a halt to cash transfers and exports to the North, according to the Kyodo news agency and leading newspapers.

Japan's exports to North Korea totalled about $135m in 1999, while cash transfers from Japan's sizeable Korean community are also thought to be significant.

The sanctions threat came a day after the United States resumed reconnaissance flights near North Korea, as the stand-off over the secretive state's nuclear programme showed no signs of abating.

Map shows range of Taepodong 1 missile, flown over Japan in 1998. Range 1,500-2,000 km, payload: 1,000 kg
Evidence that North Korea preparing flight test of Taepodong 2. Range up to 8,000 km (could reach western US)
Other missiles: Scud-B: Range 300 km, payload 1,000 kg
Scud-C: Range 500 km, payload 7600-800 kg
Scud-D (Nodong): Range 1,000-1,300 km, payload: 700-1,000 kg

Japanese newspapers have reported that Pyongyang might be preparing to test-fire its Rodong ballistic missile, which has a range long enough to reach almost anywhere in Japan.

The Japanese Government played down the reports, saying it had "no specific information" on a possible launch.

But Japan's defence agency has confirmed that a surveillance warship has been sent closer to the Korean Peninsula, in what was described as "regular patrol activities".

The US Air Force has also resumed reconnaissance flights in international airspace off North Korea, 11 days after a US plane was intercepted by North Korean fighters jets.

North Korea has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on ballistic missile tests since 1999. But in January it threatened to lift the ban, as fears over its nuclear ambitions mounted.

Nuclear warning

Those fears were given fresh impetus on Wednesday, when Washington warned that North Korea's nuclear programme may be much more advanced than previously thought.

16 Oct: US says N Korea admits to a secret nuclear programme
14 Nov: US halts oil shipments to N Korea
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon nuclear plant
31 Dec: UN nuclear inspectors forced to leave
10 Jan: N Korea pulls out of anti-nuclear treaty
12 Feb: IAEA refers issue to UN Security Council
27 Feb: US says Yongbyon reactor restarted
March 2: N Korean jets intercept US surveillance plane in international airspace
10 March: N Korea fires second missile into sea

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said that Pyongyang's uranium enrichment programme could be only months away from producing weapons-grade material.

North Korea has already re-started its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which could soon be reprocessing nuclear fuel into plutonium - another way of making nuclear bombs.

The BBC's State Department correspondent Jon Leyne says experts believe the North could soon have a production line able to make up to a bomb a month.

Mr Kelly confronted the North Koreans over the existence of a nuclear programme last October, triggering the latest crisis.

He admitted that most of Washington's allies in Asia were pressing for the US to acquiesce to Pyongyang's demands for direct talks with the North.

But Washington is sticking to its policy of pushing for multilateral talks, saying North Korea's nuclear ambitions concern the rest of the world, not just the US.

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun has again called for "urgent" steps to resolve the nuclear crisis.

Mr Roh said on Thursday that resolving the standoff was his top priority, as another war on the Korean peninsula would reduce South Korea's prosperity to ashes in a moment.

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