SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has overseen another “long-range artillery” drill, state media reported on Tuesday, a day after Japan said the nuclear-armed country had fired what appeared to be ballistic missiles.
It was the second-such “drill” in a week and comes as a prolonged hiatus in disarmament talks with the United States drags on.
Kim “guided another firepower strike drill of long-range artillery” and “highly appreciated the perfect combat readiness” of the forces, KCNA said.
The North has been continuing to refine its weapons capabilities, analysts say, more than a year after a summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump broke down in Hanoi.
Pyongyang is under multiple sets of United Nations, US and other sanctions over its weapons programmes.
The North “appeared to have carried out joint firing drills involving various types of multiple rocket launchers”, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Monday, expressing “strong regret” over Pyongyang’s actions.
The military leadership in Seoul initially said three projectiles were involved, before changing the description to “multiple”.
The devices were fired northeast into the sea from South Hamgyong province and flew 200km at a maximum altitude of 50km, the Joint Chiefs said.
That was slightly shorter but also slightly higher than last Monday’s firing of what the South’s military described as two short-range ballistic missiles.
A US State Department spokesperson called on North Korea to “avoid provocations” and abide by UN Security Council resolutions.
Pyongyang should “return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearisation,” the spokesperson said.
The State Department did not offer details on the latest launches but a Japanese defence ministry spokesman said North Korea had appeared to fire “ballistic missile(s)” – which it is banned from doing under Security Council resolutions.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament: “Repeated launches of items such as ballistic missiles have been a serious issue for the international community, including our country.”
In an emergency meeting, South Korea’s security ministers said the North’s continued firing drills were “not helpful” to efforts for lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
After last week’s launch, KCNA also said Kim had overseen a “long-range artillery” drill. It carried images of multiple launch rocket systems and several of a larger calibre rocket being fired in a forest.
Monday’s firing came days after Kim sent a personal letter to the South’s President Moon Jae-in, offering “comfort” for the rapid outbreak of new coronavirus in the country.
South Korea has one of the world’s largest infection totals outside China with more than 7,400 cases, while Pyongyang insists it has not had a single one.
That message had followed an unprecedented statement by Kim’s younger sister Yo-jong, berating Seoul’s “truly senseless” and “perfectly foolish” condemnation of Pyongyang’s weapons test last week.
The North carried out a series of weapons trials late last year, the last of them in November, which it often described as multiple-launch rocket systems although others called them ballistic missiles.
It also conducted static engine tests, most recently in December.
Pyongyang set Washington a unilateral deadline of the end of 2019 to offer fresh concessions on sanctions relief, and at a party meeting in late December Kim declared the North no longer considered itself bound by its moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
He also threatened a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon” soon.
Heightened tensions in 2017 were followed by two years of nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington, including three meetings between Kim and Trump, but little tangible progress was made.
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