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North Korea fires two short-range ballistic missiles in first launch for three months

The lack of testing activity in past months had experts wondering whether the North was holding back its weapons displays.

north-korea-launch North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the military drill of units of the Korean People's Army, with soldiers shown wearing face masks. PA Images PA Images

NORTH KOREA HAS fired two short-range ballistic missiles from a coastal area, bringing a months-long hiatus on weapons tests to a close.

The launches come 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.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed the launches, which took place in an area near Wonsan, flew about 150 miles northeast on an apogee of about 22 miles.

Japan said it has not detected any projectile landing in Japan’s territory or its exclusive economic zone, and 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 analyse information, and monitor the situation to protect the lives and property of the people,” the country’s Defence Ministry said.

South Korea’s military, however, said it believed the projectiles were short-range ballistic missiles. 

During a key ruling party meeting in late December, Kim expressed deep frustration over deadlocked diplomacy with the United States and said he would not denuclearise if the US persists with its hostile policy on his country.

He also said he would unveil a new “strategic weapon” soon and no longer be bound by a self-imposed weapons test moratorium that coincided with his diplomacy with Donald Trump.

But the lack of testing activity in past months had experts wondering whether the North was holding back its weapons displays while pushing a tough campaign to against the coronavirus, which state media has described as a matter of “national existence”.

Kim’s latest show of force is apparently aimed at boosting military morale, strengthening internal unity and showing that his country is doing well despite outside worries of how the North would contend with an outbreak.

North Korea has yet to confirm any Covid-19 cases, although state media have hinted that an uncertain number of people have been quarantined after exhibiting symptoms.

North Korea has shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists, intensified screening at entry points and mobilised tens of thousands of health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.

Kim and President Donald Trump met three times since embarking on their high-stakes nuclear diplomacy in 2018, but negotiations have faltered since their second summit last February in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capability.

Following the collapse in Hanoi, the North ended a 17-month pause in ballistic activity and conducted at least 13 rounds of weapons launches last year, using the standstill in talks to expand its military capabilities.

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