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South Korea to raise spending to modernise military

Written by: Staff
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SEOUL, June 29 (Reuters) South Korea will increase spending next year on modernising its military while pressing ahead with a personnel reduction plan, the defence ministry today said.

The defence budget for 2007 calls for a 19-percent increase in spending on equipment, including the start of long-term projects to buy fighter jets and a precision-bomb programme called the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapons system, the ministry said in a statement.

The 24.8 trillion won overall budget proposal recently submitted to parliament marks an increase of 9.9 per cent from 2006, a ministry official said by telephone.

''The priority in defence capability improvement is investment in a core strategic capability that pursues the establishment of independent defences and a cutting-edge, scientific transformation,'' the ministry said.

South Korea is technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a truce and not with a peace treaty.

South Korea is modernising its air force, while the backbone of North Korea's air force is an ageing fleet of 780 fighters and 80 bombers built with Soviet technology.

The ministry said last year it planned to cut the number of troops by about a quarter from the current 680,000 by 2020, saying advanced weapons could make up for the smaller forces to defend itself from potential threats such as North Korea.

North Korea maintains most of its 1.2-million-strong army near the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula.

The United States has about 30,000 troops in South Korea to support the country.

While political ties between the two Koreas has improved in recent years, military tensions remain high. US officials say the North may be preparing to test-fire a long-range missile.

A South Korean defence official has said North Korea's artillery estimated at 13,000 pieces with ability to fire at an initial rate of up to 500,000 shells per hour into the Seoul area continues to pose an immediate danger to the South.

REUTERS SY VC0956

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