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US expects fresh N Korean test

BBC / Charles Scanlon | October 30 2006

The commander of US forces in South Korea says he expects North Korea to test a further nuclear device and more ballistic missiles in the future.

General Burwell Bell said the recent test had not changed the military balance on the peninsular.

South Korea could continue to rely on the American nuclear umbrella, he said.

Plans for the US and South Korea to decommission their joint command structure have caused anxiety in Seoul about the threat from the North.

General Bell said North Korea had made clear for some time that it had nuclear weapons and would continue to develop them.

In the circumstances he said another test was likely following the North's first nuclear test earlier this month. He said further tests of sophisticated missiles were also expected.

The North tested seven ballistic missiles in July, including a long-range rocket that failed shortly after launch.

South Korean newspapers have reported continued activity at a North Korean nuclear test site.

The US general gave no indication when a new test could be expected.

South Korean politicians have expressed concern about their country's vulnerability, but General Bell said the military balance had not changed, as the North was thought to have developed nuclear weapons some years ago.

He said the US and South Korea were strong enough to deter aggression and could decisively defeat an attack should it take place.

The United States is planning to dismantle the two countries' joint wartime command mechanism, handing control back to the South Korean army.

That has led to fears of a security vacuum at a time of growing threats from the North.

General Bell promised what he called "bridging capabilities" to make up for South Korean shortcomings during the transition period.

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