North Korea fires presumed short-range missiles into the sea

Monday, March 2, 2020
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People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea’s firing projectiles with a file footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired two presumed short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern sea on Monday, South Korean officials said, resuming weapons demonstrations after a months-long hiatus that may have been forced by the coronavirus crisis in Asia.

The launches came two days after North Korea’s state media said leader Kim Jong Un supervised an artillery drill aimed at testing the combat readiness of units in front-line and eastern areas.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were fired from an area near the coastal town of Wonsan and flew about 240 kilometers (149 miles) northeast on an apogee of about 35 kilometers (22 miles). It said the South Korean and U.S. militaries were jointly analyzing the launches. JCS officials later told reporters that the weapons were presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles.

North Korea likely tested one of its new road-mobile, solidfuel missile systems or a developmental “super large” multiple rocket launcher it repeatedly demonstrated last year, said Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies. Experts say such weapons can potentially overwhelm missile defense systems and expand the North’s ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. bases there.

Kim Jong Un had entered the new year vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure, using a key ruling party meeting in late December to warn of “shocking” action over stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.

He also said North Korea would soon reveal a new “strategic weapon” and insisted the country was no longer “unilaterally bound” to a self-imposed suspension on the testing of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles. But Kim did not explicitly lift the moratorium or give any clear indication that such tests were impending and seemed to leave the door open for eventual negotiations.

South Korea’s presidential office said National Security Director Chung Eui-yong discussed the launches with the South’s defense minister and spy chief, and that the officials expressed “strong concern” over the North’s resumption of testing activity, which could raise military tensions.

Japan said that it had not detected any projectile landing in its territory or its exclusive economic zone, and that no sea vessels or aircraft had been damaged.

“The repeated firings of ballistic missiles by North Korea is a serious problem for the international community including Japan, and the government will continue to gather and analyze information, and monitor the situation to protect the lives and property of the people,” the Defense Ministry’s statement said.

The recent lull in North Korea’s launches had experts wondering whether the North was holding back its weapons displays while it was fighting the coronavirus, which state media has described as a matter of “national existence.” Some analysts speculated that the North cut back training and other activities involving large gatherings of soldiers to reduce the possibility of the virus spreading within its military.

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