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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — North Korea has been testing ballistic missile engines and digging new trenches since the beginning of the United States’ war in Iraq, the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a new report.

The report was given Tuesday to members of the National Assembly’s Committee of State Security, said Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Nam Dae-yun. The National Assembly is South Korea’s legislature.

North Korea also has been camouflaging bases near the Demilitarized Zone, renovating about 400 240 mm artillery guns and improving around 40 tanks, the report said. The country has constructed about 80 new defensive trenches, it said.

North Korea also has been careful about traffic in the Yellow Sea near the Northern Limit Line, the invisible sea border between the Koreas.

Officials believe North Korea has continued developing its Taepodong-2 missile, with a range of up to 3,700 miles. North Korea raised alarm in 1998 with a test firing of a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan.

North Korea admitted to a secret nuclear program in October 2002, but negotiations to end the program have been unsuccessful. The United States believes North Korea may have a few crude nuclear weapons, one of which North Korea has threatened to test.

But the country’s robust missile program is believed to bring the regime hard currency. During a December 2002 ship intervention in the Indian Ocean, Spanish forces found 15 Scud missiles purchased from North Korea by Yemen.

“The regime’s ‘military first’ policy directs approximately one-third of the domestic output to the military,” U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon LaPorte told Congress in March. “The North Korean ballistic missile inventory includes over 500 Scud missiles that can deliver conventional or chemical weapons across the entire peninsula.

“They continue to produce and deploy medium-range No-Dong missiles capable of striking cities and military bases in Japan with these same payloads,” he said.

The United States has said it wants to withdraw about 12,500 troops from South Korea by the end of next year, but negotiations on the timetable for the change continue.

U.S. officials maintain that a troop withdrawal won’t upset the security environment and pledged to spend $11 billion to upgrade defense systems in South Korea.

— Jennifer Kleckner contributed to this report.


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