Rockets launched amid Pope’s visit

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Rockets launched amid Pope’s visit

North Korea yesterday fired five short-range rockets toward the East Sea, just minutes before and also after the much-anticipated arrival of Pope Francis, who is on a five-day visit to Seoul this week. The pontiff was scheduled yesterday to meet with Seoul officials as well as President Park Geun-hye in the afternoon.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday that Pyongyang launched a total of five projectiles, three in the morning and two in the afternoon, from an unidentified launch site near the eastern coastal city of Wonsan. They were assumed to have landed in North Korean waters off Kimchaek, a northeastern port city of the regime, the military said.

It’s possible that the rockets were fired with the North’s newly developed 300-mm multiple-rocket launcher, which has a range of more than 200 kilometers (124.2 miles), according to the military. The regime did not issue a warning for vessels sailing in nearby waters.

The three rockets fired in the morning were launched at 9:30 a.m., 9:40 a.m. and 9:55 a.m., just minutes before the chartered airplane carrying Pope Francis and a delegation of Catholic officials and reporters landed at Seoul Airport, on the southeastern outskirts of the city.

The other two were launched at 12:56 p.m. and 1:05 p.m., when the pontiff was having a private Mass at the Apostolic Nunciature in central Seoul before attending a welcoming ceremony hosted by the Blue House and meeting with President Park Geun-hye at the presidential complex.

“All of the five rockets flew about 200 or 220 kilometers,” a Seoul military official told reporters. “They did not even issue a warning for ships sailing in the East Sea.”

Since February, North Korea has launched approximately 100 types of projectiles, including short-range ballistic missiles and 300-mm rockets, on 17 occasions.

Hours before the launch, the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a mouthpiece for the North Korean government, said in a statement that the regime had called upon South Korea to stop all “hostile acts,” which included holding joint military drills with the United States, scheduled to begin on Monday.

The North Korean committee also urged the South to “withdraw all unfair systematic measures blocking inter-Korean interaction and cooperation,” in an apparent reference to the May 24 sanctions imposed by the former Lee Myung-bak administration.

The comprehensive sanctions imposed on North Korea by Seoul on May 24, 2010, halted all inter-Korean projects except those in relation to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The sanctions were put in place after it was found that the South Korean Cheonan warship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo. Still, the committee did not mention the recent proposal from Seoul to have high-level talks for holding reunions for families separated in the 1950-53 Korean War.

As of yesterday, North Korea had not responded to the proposal.

The two sides have also not reached an agreement on whether North Korea will send its cheerleaders to the South with its national team for the upcoming Asian Games in Incheon, due to conflicts over which side will fund the squad’s stay here.

Seoul refused to respond to the North’s demand to cancel its military exercises and ease sanctions.

Meanwhile, North Korea sent a list on Wednesday of the 150 national team players that will participate in the Incheon Asian Games to the Olympic Council of Asia, the event’s steering committee said yesterday. Including managers, coaches, officials and reporters, the total number for the delegation and athletes will be 352, the committee said.

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









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