| South Korean protesters scuffle with policemen at an anti-US rally in Seoul on Saturday. (Reuters)
Seoul, March 1 (Reuters): North Korea accused the US today of stepping up spy flights as a preparation for war as South Korea’s new President vowed to work for a swift, peaceful end to the nuclear crisis on the peninsula.
“The US imperialists committed over 180 cases of aerial espionage against the DPRK in February by mobilising strategic and tactical reconnaissance planes on different missions,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said, quoting military sources.
DPRK is an acronym for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the state’s official name.
The agency said an RC-135 strategic reconnaissance aircraft — the plane used to probe Soviet air defences during the Cold War — “illegally intruded into the air above the territorial waters in the East Sea (Sea of Japan)... almost every day from February 21 and made shuttle flights in the air for hours to spy on major targets in its east coastal area”.
KCNA said other spy flights were carried out by a U-2 high-altitude plane and an EP-3 electronic reconnaissance aircraft.
The US military had also mobilised at least 130 warplanes on February 25 alone for attack drills in South Korea, it said, concluding: “All these espionage flights and air war games clearly indicate the desperate efforts of the US to start a war against the DPRK.” “These unceasing US war drills drive the situation on the Korean peninsula to such a dangerous pitch of tension that a nuclear war may break out on it any moment,” KCNA said in another report.
“The DPRK is keeping itself fully ready to repel the US military attack,” it added.
The US military command in Seoul, the South Korean capital, could not be reached for comment. Tensions over North Korea’s suspected nuclear weapons plans spiked on Wednesday after Washington, citing satellite photographs, said North Korean scientists had fired up a reactor mothballed since 1994 at the Yongbyon complex north of Pyongyang.
US officials and congressional sources said later scientists were also readying a plutonium reprocessing plant at the same complex, and could have it operating as a source of weapons-grade material within a month.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told his country of 48 million today he “firmly opposed” the North’s suspected drive to build nuclear weapons, adding: “North Korea’s nuclear issue is the task we should resolve immediately.”