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South Korea voices concern over North Korean nuclear standoff

AFP | May 4, 2005

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon warned Wednesday the international community was growing impatient over the stalled process of ending a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons drive.

Ban said efforts to resolve the standoff through dialogue have entered a "critical phase."

"Recent developments have reached a level that is worthy of considerable concern," he said.

Little progress has been recorded in efforts to end the nuclear standoff since it erupted in October 2002. Pyongyang declared in February that it already possessed nuclear weapons.

Washington was reportedly mulling whether to seek a UN resolution empowering all nations to intercept shipments in or out of North Korea that may contain nuclear materials.

"North Korea should know the stalled process ... will not continue forever," Ban said.

Ban said the international community was watching whether North Korea would carry out a nuclear test.

A series of recent media reports have said the Stalinist country was preparing an underground nuclear test and might conduct one as early as June.

On Tuesday, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Shin Hyun-Don said Seoul and Washington had detected signs of a tunnel being drilled in Kilchu, 350 kilometers (217 miles) northeast of Pyongyang.

"But it is unclear what the tunnel is for," he said, in response to reports by the Chosun Ilbo, a major daily in Seoul, that US intelligence suggested North Korea could conduct a nuclear test at the site.

The United States has given the relevant photos and analyses to South Korea, the newspaper said.

North Korea is believed to have one or two crude nuclear bombs, according to US intelligence reports.

Last month, the North said it had shut down its nuclear power plant at its Yongbyon nuclear complex and was preparing to reprocess the plant's spent fuel, a move that could result in the production of enough plutonium to build up to six more nuclear bombs.


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