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SEOUL (Reuters) - Vast forest fires have hit a large part of central North Korea, sending plumes of smoke over most of the country's central and eastern regions, images provided by NASA show.
The fires could deal another blow to the North's broken economy after it was hit by fresh U.N. sanctions for a nuclear test in May and flooding a few months ago that wiped out farmland in a country that already faces chronic food shortages.
The U.S. space agency said multiple fires had been burning in the state since mid-October, with several hot spots located in a mountainous region in the centre of the country. (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/fires/main/world/20091019_kor
ea.html) The fires and smoke appear to have affected areas that secretive North Korea uses for its missile launches and nuclear tests. The North shot off a barrage of short-range missiles this month in a show of military might that analysts said was aimed at boosting its bargaining leverage in international talks.
North Korea has not commented on the fires in its official media and the South's Unification Ministry said it was looking into the reports.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz, Editing by Dean Yates)