Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

North Korea says Kim Jong Un oversaw drills of rocket launchers

Experts say the North may increase these sorts of low-level provocations

This photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency purports to show a 'strike drill' for multiple launchers. KCNA/Reuters
This photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency purports to show a 'strike drill' for multiple launchers. KCNA/Reuters

North Korean state media on Sunday said leader Kim Jong-un observed a live-fire drill of long-range multiple rocket launchers and unspecified tactical guided weapons, a day after South Korea's military detected the North launching several unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said Mr Kim expressed "great satisfaction" over Saturday's drills and stressed that his front-line troops should keep a "high alert posture" and enhance combat ability to "defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance of the country."

The weapons launches were a likely sign of Pyongyang's growing frustration at stalled diplomatic talks with Washington meant to provide coveted sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament. They also highlighted the fragility of the detente between the Koreas, which in a military agreement reached last September vowed to completely cease "all hostile acts" against each other in land, air and sea.

"Praising the People's Army for its excellent operation of modern large-calibre long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons, he said that all the service members are master gunners and they are capable of carrying out duty to promptly tackle any situation," the KNCA reported Mr Kim as saying.

"He stressed the need for all the service members to keep high alert posture and more dynamically wage the drive to increase the combat ability so as to defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance of the country and ... the security of the people from the threats and invasion by any forces."

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said "several projectiles" had been launched an area near the coastal town of Wonsan and that they flew up to 200 kilometres before splashing into the sea toward the north-east. That roughly matched the distance between the area and the South Korean capital of Seoul, although the North in Sunday's report did not issue any direct threat or warning toward the South and the United States.

Experts say the North may increase these sorts of low-level provocations to apply pressure on the United States to agree to reduce crushing international sanctions.

The launch comes amid a diplomatic breakdown that has followed the failed summit earlier this year between the US president Donald Trump and Mr Kim over the North's pursuit of nuclear bombs that can accurately target the US mainland. The North probably has viable shorter-range nuclear armed missiles, but it still needs more tests to perfect its longer-range weapons, according to outside analysts.

Mr Trump said Saturday that he still believes a nuclear deal with North Korea will happen. He tweeted that Kim "fully realises the great economic potential of North Korea, and will do nothing to interfere or end it."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that the US was aware of North Korea's actions and would continue to monitor the situation.

South Korea said in a statement it's "very concerned" about North Korea's weapons launches, calling them a violation of last year's inter-Korean agreements to reduce animosities between the countries. The statement, issued after an emergency meeting of top officials at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, also urged North Korea to stop committing acts that would raise military tensions and join efforts to resume nuclear diplomacy.

Updated: May 5, 2019 08:53 AM

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