North Korea says nuclear test gives it "dignity"

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SEOUL, Jan 1 (Reuters) North Korea marked the New Year proudly today, hailing its first nuclear test as one of the most auspicious events in the nation's history and vowing to boost its deterrent force even further.

The secretive country, which lays out policy priorities in the state media every January 1, said it would press ahead with developing information technology while continuing to boost farm production, the backbone of a country that still fails to grow enough food to feed itself.

''The DPRK's (North Korea's) access to a nuclear deterrent was an auspicious event in the national history as it meant the realisation of the Korean people's centuries-old desire to have national strength no one could dare challenge,'' said an editorial published in three official newspapers.

North Korea defied international warnings to conduct its first nuclear test on October 9, prompting the United Nations Security Council to order punitive sanctions.

''There have never been in the annals of the Korean revolution such (a) year as 2006 when the position of our country was raised to that of a full-fledged power and its dignity was strikingly manifested,'' said the joint editorial.

An English-language text was carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The United States and others have told impoverished North Korea it is foolish to devote so much of its limited resources to pursuing nuclear weapons when it could receive massive aid and security guarantees in return for scrapping weapons programmes.

The North insisted today it would continue to build its military forces and deterrent this year to ensure that the country is ''an impregnable fortress''.

North Korea, which proclaims it is building a great and powerful nation, ranks close to bottom in the world in terms of per-capita income. Many of its factories are idle because of a lack of power and raw materials while it cannot produce enough electricity to light the country at night.

Experts have said that North Korea, which was hit by severe flooding in July 2006, could be facing severe food shortages in the coming months due to crop loss and reduced aid from the international community.

The North acknowledged its problems in food production.

''We should, as in the past, keep up farming as the great foundation of the country and make an epoch-making advance in solving the problem of food for the people,'' the joint editorial said.

While the DPRK would also pay close attention to boosting the power, coal-mining and metal industries and rail transport sectors, it planned to stay the course next year in terms of its economy.

''We should run the economy by our own efforts, our own technology and our own resources with a determination that we must build a socialist paradise by ourselves,'' it said.

Reuters DH VP0750

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