November 1, 2005

Truck with missile parts explodes in S.Korea tunnel

By Jack Kim and Lee Jin-joo

SEOUL (Reuters) - A commercial truck carrying missile parts
exploded inside a South Korean highway tunnel on Tuesday, YTN
television and South Korean defense officials said.

The truck was in a four-vehicle convoy when its brakes
failed on a highway linking the southern city of Taegu with
Masan, just west of Pusan where a summit meeting of the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is taking place later
this month.

No casualties were reported, the Air Force said in a
statement. The location was closer to Taegu on the 80-km
(50-mile) highway. Officials said the tunnel was still blocked
and urged drivers to find other routes.

A Taegu fire department official speaking to YTN said the
fire was under control and an investigation to determine the
exact cause of the accident was under way.

A chemical treatment truck was among the 33 fire engines on
the scene, the fire official said.

A South Korean Defense Ministry official said by telephone
that Korea Express commercial cargo trucks were moving the
missile parts from an Air Force base to a location in Taegu.

The missile parts belonged to the South Korean military,
another South Korean Defense Ministry official and U.S.
military spokesman Kim Young-kyu said by telephone.

Along with the South's 690,000 troops, the United States
maintains more than 30,000 troops in the country.

A military source said by telephone the parts were
dismantled Nike missile warheads and propulsion devices being
transported to storage in Taegu.

Sparks flew from one of the brakes on the truck as it
failed and caught fire in the cargo compartment of the truck, a
highway patrol officer speaking to YTN said.

Another witness speaking on YTN said the trucks were marked
with signs indicating explosive materials were on board.

A retired South Korean general speaking on YTN said it was
unlikely a propulsion device, although loaded with a detonator
and fuel, would explode simply from heat and fire.

A highway corporation official said closed circuit
television inside the tunnel showed fire originating on one of
the vehicles spreading to another, but it was unclear whether
the second was an unrelated vehicle or part of the convoy.

Several explosions were seen from the vehicles but they
were likely to be from tires and vehicle fuel tanks blowing up
under heat and not missile explosives, he said.

(Additional reporting by Rhee So-eui, Kim Miyoung, Park
Sung-woo, Kim Yeon-hee and Jon Herskovitz)