SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea warned Wednesday that the US mainland was "well within" the range of its nuclear weapons, as Pyongyang continued to ramp up the bellicose rhetoric after its recent nuclear test.
In an article posted on the official Uriminzokkiri website, a member of the Korean National Peace Committee - a propaganda body - said the North was now a "fully-independent rocket and nuclear weapons state".
"The United States should be acutely aware that the US mainland is now well within the range of our strategic rockets and nuclear weapons," the signed commentary said.
North Korea made a similar claim in October last year, saying it possessed rockets capable of striking the continental United States.
That was largely dismissed as bluster, but that was before Pyongyang conducted a successful long-range rocket launch in December, followed by its third nuclear test on February 12.
Although most experts believe the North has a long way to go to developing a dependable inter-continental ballistic missile, the December launch was a strong step in the right direction.
And this month's nuclear test also fuelled concerns that North Korea is refining the technical ability to place a miniaturised nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
After analysing debris from the rocket launch in December, the South Korean military estimated its possible range at around 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles), bringing in the west coast of the United States. In a separate commentary Wednesday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) slammed upcoming US-South joint military drills, and warned that the Korean peninsula was "an inch away from explosion".
Meanwhile, the UN's top human rights body must call North Korea to account over systematic abuses inflicted by the secretive regime on its people, the European Union said Wednesday.
"For too long, the population of the country has been subjected to widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses," Ireland's Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, whose country is at the helm of the EU, told a session of the UN Human Rights Council.
"For too long, the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has persistently refused to cooperate with the Human Rights Council," he said.
He said it was time for "increased international scrutiny" of the country's record. Together with Japan, the 27-nation EU is preparing to submit a resolution to the council calling for an in-depth probe of the situation in North Korea. Addressing the council on Tuesday, Japan's vice foreign minister Toshiko Abe qualified NKorea's record as "dire".
Gilmore hammered home the message on Wednesday. "The EU is alarmed by the recurring reports of torture, summary executions, rape and other patterns of human rights violations in the country and especially in the prison camps where reportedly 200,000 people are being held," he said. "There must be an investigation," he added.