N Korea beefs up arsenal near border with South: Report

US has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against North.

Seoul: North Korea beefed up its military arsenal near its border with the South last year despite a severe economic downturn, a government source in Seoul was quoted as saying on Sunday.

The communist country deployed some 200 additional units of 240-mm multiple-rocket launchers along the heavily-fortified border, Yonhap news agency reported.

The 240-millimetre, which can shoot up to 22 rounds every 35 minutes and has a range of 60 kilometres (37 miles), is considered by the South`s military as a "core threat" to the capital city of Seoul and populous suburbs, Yonhap said.

Seoul, about 50 kilometres south of the tense border, has a population of 10.4 million people, more than one fifth of the nation`s total population.

The US has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a ceasefire.

The source said Pyongyang also deployed 2,100 new artillery guns and 300 tanks, adding that the communist state is now known to have some 10,600 projectile weapons and 4,200 tanks.

The South`s Defence Ministry said in a 2008 white paper that Pyongyang is armed with about 8,500 artillery guns and 3,900 tanks.

North Korea`s increased military arsenal, despite its ailing economy and acute food shortage, "proves that its intention of military threat to the South remains unchanged", the source was quoted as saying.

A defence white paper to be published in early October will contain figures on the North`s latest military capability, the Defence Ministry said.

Despite its ailing economy and severe food shortage, the North`s military totals 1.2 million personnel and is one of the world`s largest.

Cross-border ties have been icy since Seoul accused Pyongyang of attacking a South Korean warship in March and killing 46 sailors.

The North angrily denied the charge, further heightening tension in the relations already strained since the South`s conservative government took hardline policies on Pyongyang.

But Pyongyang recently made a series of conciliatory gestures by returning the crew of a detained South Korean boat, offering to hold a new round of reunions for families separated by the peninsula`s division and accepting flood aid from Seoul.

PTI

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