Pyongyang fires two more rockets ahead of Xi visit

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Pyongyang fires two more rockets ahead of Xi visit

North Korea yesterday launched two short-range projectiles assumed to be fired with a multiple rocket launcher, the latest in a series of missile fires ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul today.

An official from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday at a briefing that the projectiles were fired at 6:50 a.m. and 8 a.m. toward the northeast from an unidentified launch site near Wonsan, an eastern coastal city in Kangwon Province. They splashed into North Korean waters in the East Sea, the official said.

The projectiles appeared to have a range of 180 kilometers (112 miles) and were fired with a 300 millimeter (11.8 inch) caliber multiple-rocket launcher, according to the briefing. They were assumed to be similar to those launched on June 26, presumably newly developed tactical guided missiles hyped by North Korea.

Pyongyang reportedly possesses thousands of old multiple rocket launchers. Although the launchers have no precision-guided missile system, a projectile fired from them is difficult to intercept or detect in advance due to its low altitude, according to the South Korean military.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported on June 28, however, that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had guided the test firing of cutting-edge, ultra-precision missiles just one day after the regime fired three projectiles with what was assumed to be the multiple rocket launcher.

With a maximum range of about 200 kilometers, the 300 millimeter launcher is capable of handling a bigger projectile. If a missile were to be fired with the launcher near Kaesong City, North Korea, it could potentially strike South Korea’s Gyeryongdae military headquarters in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong.

Officials here interpret the North’s recent firing of short-range projectiles as saber-rattling ahead of a much-anticipated visit by President Xi.

On Sunday, Pyongyang also test-fired two ballistic projectiles, assumed to be Scud missiles, toward international waters in the East Sea.

“Before [today’s] visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea, North Korea appears intent to express their presence,” the official from the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. “Additionally, it could also be in response to our rejection of its proposal [Tuesday].”

On Tuesday, South Korea rebuffed a proposal from Pyongyang to create “a conciliatory mood” ahead of the Incheon Asian Games to mark the July 4 Joint Communique signed by two Koreas in 1972. As part of conciliatory gestures, the regime demanded that Seoul scrap its joint military exercises with the United States in August.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification called the proposal “total nonsense” given the regime’s refusal to give up its nuclear ambitions.

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




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