North Korea has 1,000 missiles, South says

SEOUL Wed Mar 17, 2010 8:49am EDT

A Japanese visitor walks past a board depicting North Korea's missile system displayed at the Unification Observation Platform, just south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas in Paju, about 50 km (31 miles) north of Seoul November 18, 2009. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

A Japanese visitor walks past a board depicting North Korea's missile system displayed at the Unification Observation Platform, just south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas in Paju, about 50 km (31 miles) north of Seoul November 18, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

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SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has increased its missile arsenal by 25 percent in the past two years to about 1,000, expanding the threat the state poses to the region, the South's defense chief said Wednesday.

Pyongyang's arsenal includes intermediate-range missiles that can hit targets at up to 3,000 km (1,860 miles) away, Yonhap news agency quoted Kim Tae-young as telling a forum of business leaders.

The missiles could hit all of Japan and put U.S. military bases in Guam at risk.

South Korea's last estimate of the North's missile stockpile was 800 done in 2008, Yonhap said. Its Defense White Paper in 2008 said the North had deployed the intermediate range missile.

The estimate comes at a time when the North is seen to be under increasing pressure to return to six-party talks on nuclear disarmament, following economic sanctions imposed on it after its nuclear test in May 2009.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been trying to hold the destitute state together as its economic troubles mount, the South Korean defense official said.

"Kim Jong-il is struggling to stabilize his regime and hold its system together and has been focusing on securing resources from the outside while maintaining a planned economy," he said.

A botched attempt to reform the currency triggered anger among an already impoverished public because it stoked inflation.

News reports said Kim may visit China late this month for the first time in four years to shore up investment from his biggest benefactor in new projects his country has launched to increase its meager international trade and commerce.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; editing by Jon Herskovitz and Sanjeev Miglani)

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