North declares no fly, no sail zone

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North declares no fly, no sail zone

Pyongyang has issued a no-fly, no-sail zone in the East Sea, according to a South Korean military official, an indication that the North may likely be planning a mid-range missile launch.

The North fired short-range missiles on Thursday and Friday amid the ongoing joint annual military drills between Seoul and Washington, which kicked off last month and add to tensions each year on the Korean Peninsula.

The military official said that North Korea had prohibited its ships from sailing in the East Sea and its planes from flying over a designated zone on April 1, though the source did not specify how long the ban would last.

This could imply an attempt by Pyongyang to protect its ships and aircraft should it test-fire a mid-range Rodong ballistic missile, last launched over a year ago.

Additional missile-firing from Pyongyang is also expected with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter scheduled to visit Seoul on Thursday for security talks, which will involve discussion on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

Pyongyang has not yet notified the International Maritime Organization or neighboring nations of its declaration, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense on Monday.

The ban is expected to last until at least April 15, the birthday anniversary of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, observers in Seoul said.

U.S. and South Korean authorities agree the likelihood is high that North Korea will test-fire a Rodong missile into the East Sea.

Rodong missiles have a 1,300-kilometer range, and North Korea can potentially raise the altitude or increase the weight of the warhead to adjust its range to cover South Korea’s southern region.

Pyongyang last launched two Rodong missiles in March 2014, when U.S. President Barack Obama, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a trilateral meeting in The Hague along the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.

“South Korean-U.S. intelligence is maintaining a 24-hour watch on the situation. Right now, no strange trends have been confirmed,” Defense Ministry spokesman Na Seung-yong said in a Monday morning briefing.

Pyongyang fired four short-range missiles on Friday from its Tongchang-ri launch site in North Pyongan province that flew approximately 140 kilometers before landing in the Yellow Sea, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The previous day, it fired a similar short-range projectile from its western coast.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared to have supervised the launch on Friday, according to a military official.

Analysts believe the projectiles were short-range KN-02 ballistic missiles.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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