South Korean officials say North Korea test-fired two cruise missiles

·2 min read
File: People watch a TV showing file images of North Korea’s missile launch (AP)
File: People watch a TV showing file images of North Korea’s missile launch (AP)

North Korea test fired two suspected cruise missiles into the sea off its east coast earlier on Tuesday, South Korean military officials said.

This is the North’s fifth round of weapon launches this month to display its military strength amid a prolonged freeze in nuclear negotiations with the US.

South Korea’s military and US intelligence officials are assessing the launches to determine the nature of the projectiles. A military official on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that the tests were conducted from an “inland area.”

According to state media, the missiles were fired from launcher trucks with the potential to strike targets 1,500 km away. The missiles were described as a “strategic weapon of great significance”.

The isolated country had launched two suspected short-range ballistic missiles from its capital Pyongyang last Monday.

The missiles were fired from the Sunan airfield, last used in 2017 to test fire the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile.

The increased weapon tests are seen as part of the North’s efforts to pressure Washington over stalled diplomacy after the pandemic broke the back of the country’s economy, mostly due to US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme.

Kim Kong-un had last week threatened to resume the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests and prepare for a “long term confrontation” with the US.

The testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting American land was suspended by Mr Kim in 2018 when he initiated diplomacy with former US president Donald Trump.

The negotiations were stalled in 2019, when the US rejected North Korea’s demand for relief over major sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear weapons.

“The hostile policy and military threat by the US have reached a danger line that cannot be overlooked anymore,” state media Korean Central News Agency said last week.

Lee Sang-min, a military expert at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses, said tests this month were aimed at ramping up geopolitical tensions, which could force Joe Biden’s administration to relook its strategy towards the North.

“Cruise missiles are slower than ballistic missiles and so are regarded as less of a threat, but they hit targets with high precision, something North Korea would continue to develop,” Mr Lee told Reuters.

Even though cruise missile launches are not banned under UN sanctions imposed on North Korea, Pyongyang has continued to defy international condemnation and has conducted four rounds of ballistic missile tests this month.

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