updated 10/26/2004 9:59:53 PM ET 2004-10-27T01:59:53

The United States, Japan and South Korea have boosted their monitoring of a missile base in North Korea as military intelligence indicates that the communist nation might be preparing to test missiles, a South Korean newspaper reported Wednesday.

The base in Jeongju, 60 miles north of Pyongyang, is home to Scud-type missiles that have a range of 185-310 miles, and Nodong missiles with an 810-mile range. Most of Japan’s four main islands fall within Nodong’s range.

Beginning two or three days ago, “North Koreans began making moves at the Jeongju base, such as moving mobile missile launch stations,” the mass-circulation daily Chosun Ilbo said, citing a senior South Korean government official. “We are monitoring the movements to see whether this was part of their training or they actually intend to launch a missile.”

South Korea’s Defense Ministry “neither confirms nor denies” the report, said a ministry spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The reported activities came as North Korea denounced this week’s multination naval exercise in Japanese waters, calling them a U.S.-led “ultimate war action” against the isolated country.

Besides the United States and Japan, seven other countries are participating in the naval exercise. The drill is part of an anti-proliferation security initiative, known as PSI, in which allied forces can intercept ships or aircraft believed carrying missiles or equipment for unconventional weapons. The exercise was initiated last year primarily to deter North Korea’s trade in missile and nuclear technology and components.

Powell: No U.S. invasion plans
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell — who visited Japan, China and South Korea this week — has said Washington has no intention of invading North Korea and wants to settle a dispute over its nuclear weapons program peacefully.

Late last month, Japan said that intelligence indicated North Korea was beefing up troops and equipment around missile launch bases. Its media later reported that the activity had subsided.

Suspicions over North Korean missile activities came as high-level, six-nation talks on ending the North’s nuclear weapons development stalled. A round of negotiations with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia were planned for late September but were never held because North Korea refused to attend.

Powell urged North Korea to return to the nuclear talks. But the North blamed Washington’s “hostile” policy against it for the delay, and said this week that it would “double” its deterrent force.

Saber-rattling in 1998
North Korea rattled Japan in 1998 when it fired a test missile over its neighbor’s main island that landed in the Pacific.

The United States is preparing a new naval deployment in the sea off North Korea with destroyers capable of monitoring ballistic missile launches from the North.

South Korea, meanwhile, said that two mysterious holes found Tuesday on the wire fence on the tense border with North Korea were most likely used not by communist infiltrators but by a South Korean defector to the North. It ordered its troops to stand down from a high alert.

The highly unusual discovery of the holes — found on the fence checked daily by troops for signs of infiltration — had triggered fears of North Korean commandoes slipping through the border and led South Korea to tighten roadblocks and traffic checks north of Seoul.

“After investigating the way the fence was cut and the foot prints in the scene, we have concluded that an unidentified person crossed into the north,” said Brig. Gen. Hwang Joong-sun, an operational officer of the South Korean military.

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