North fires Scuds ahead of Xi trip

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North fires Scuds ahead of Xi trip

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Relatives of sailors killed in the second battle of Yeonpyeong tour a guided missile patrol killer (PKG) named after one of the casualties yesterday on the anniversary of the 2002 confrontation that killed six South Korean sailors and injured 18. [NEWS1]

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles yesterday, Seoul officials said, four days before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul.

The projectiles, assumed to be Scud missiles with 500-kilometer (310-mile) ranges, blasted off at 4:50 a.m. and 4:58 a.m., respectively, from an unnamed location in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday.

Both splashed into international waters off the North’s east coast.

Seoul officials said they assumed that the missiles were Scud-C or Scud-ER types, given their range.

Powered by liquid fuel, the one-stage rocket is fired from a mobile launcher, so it was hard to locate the exact launch site. With its range, the missile could strike anywhere in South Korean territory if it was fired from near the inter-Korean border.

It is the 11th time North Korea test-fired short-range projectiles this year and the fourth time it launched ballistic missiles.

Under the UN Security Council’s sanctions, North Korea is banned from testing any technology related to ballistic missiles.

The launch came just three days after the regime fired three 300-mm artillery shells in a similar direction on Thursday, according to the South Korean military. At the time, the rockets flew about 190 kilometers before landing in the East Sea.

A day after the launch, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that it had successfully launched a newly developed tactical guided missile under the guidance of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and hailed it as a breakthrough in defense technology.

A U.S. defense official told CNN that Washington doubted that claim.

The Thursday launch came on the same day the two Koreas held official talks of further development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the jointly run factory park in Kaesong, North Korea. Seoul wants changes that will attract foreign investors from countries other than South Korea. There was no breakthrough in the talks, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification.

For the launches yesterday and Thursday, Pyongyang did not send a notice to Seoul or other neighboring countries to evacuate boats or airplanes in the waters, a military official in Seoul told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“It is international custom to launch a missile after notifying any civilians or boats near the launch to evacuate first,” the official said. “But North Korea continues the dangerous launching of missiles recently [without notice] as if to show off their strike precision technology.”

The South’s Defense Ministry said in March that when North Korea fired four artillery shells into the East Sea without prior notice, a Chinese civilian aircraft was only 80 kilometers from one of the projectiles.

Military officials told reporters yesterday they consider the launches means of attracting international attention before Chinese President Xi’s visit to Seoul on July 3 and 4.

Xi’s visit is notable because it is the first time a Chinese president has visited the South before he paid a visit to the North since South Korea and China established diplomatic ties in 1992.

The agenda for the summit between President Park Geun-hye and Xi is expected to focus on the denuclearization of North Korea. Analysts are watching to see if Xi strongly warns Pyongyang not to conduct a further nuclear test.

Meanwhile, the Rodong Sinmun, the official mouthpiece of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, emphasized “self-reliance” in an editorial Saturday.

“Under the guidance of our great leaders, no plots by the imperialists or pressure from the followers of the great powers could force our people to surrender,” the editorial said.

In previous reports by North Korean state media, “great powers” usually refers to China when the regime indirectly criticized its longtime ally.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry official told Japan’s Kyodo News yesterday that the missile was part of “usual military exercises.”

“Given the Rodong Sinmun’s article today [Sunday] that Kim Jong-un paid a visit to a food factory in Kalma, near Wonsan, there is a possibility that Kim was near the launch site of the missiles,” another military official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “As the Scud missiles are not a new weapon, the launch is not literally a testing of a missile but a way of sending a message to neighboring countries, including South Korea.”

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr ]

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