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Seoul deploys tactical missiles near DMZ

The South Korean military has deployed to frontline areas near the Demilitarized Zone tactical surface-to-surface missiles that put the North Korean capital of Pyongyang within their striking range, military sources said Friday.

The forward-deployment early this year of the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missile Systems came as concerns were rising that the North could provoke again with its long-range artillery pieces capable of attacking Seoul and its surrounding areas.

Given the worsening inter-Korean relations following the two deadly attacks that killed 50 South Koreans, some here have raised the possibility that the belligerent state could launch another attack.

Manufactured by the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin, the ATACMS missile with a range of around 165 kilometers can be fired from multiple rocket launchers mountable on vehicles, which means the missile is highly mobile and easy to be hidden.

One ATACMS missile is capable of devastating an area four times bigger than a soccer field, according to military experts.

South Korea introduced around 220 ATACMS missiles on two occasions in 1998 and 2004 to deal with the possible infiltration by North Korea’s armor units and threats from its long-range artillery.

North Korea has some 300 long-range artillery pieces with ranges of 43-60 kilometers near the DMZ that can surely reach the Seoul metropolitan area.

But the South has K-9 self-propelled howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems with ranges of 36-65 kilometers. Pyongyang is some 150 kilometers away from military outposts just south of the heavily-fortified border.

Tensions on the peninsula remain high with the Seoul government maintaining a tough stance against its northern neighbor, particularly after the two deadly attacks.

In April, the North warned of retaliatory strikes against the South, berating civic groups for sending to its territory anti-North leaflets ― aimed at the North Korean people with a wrong understanding of the autocratic regime and little access to information on the outside world.

Earlier this month, the North renewed its threat of military reprisal following the news reports here that photos of its leader Kim Jong-il and his third son and heir apparent Jong-un were used as targets during military shooting drills.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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