Seoul studies Pyongyang’s missile move

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Seoul studies Pyongyang’s missile move

South Korea’s military said on Thursday that North Korea has deployed at least one intermediate-range ballistic missile near the eastern port city of Wonsan, raising the possibility that the North will launch the medium-range mobile ballistic missile for the first time to mark the birthday celebration of Kim Il Sung on Friday.

When asked about Yonhap News Agency’s report, which said that North Korea has deployed one or two Musudan mid-range ballistic missiles, Moon Sang-gyun, a spokesman at the Ministry of National Defense, said the military has beefed up its surveillance of Pyongyang’s activities. The intelligence agencies of South Korea and the United States recently spotted North Korea’s deployment of an intermediate-range missile, which was loaded onto a transporter-erector-launcher (TER), a missile-launching vehicle.

Moon also added that there is a possibility that the North will conduct its fifth nuclear test anytime now, as the North’s nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, in North Hamgyong, has finished preparation.

“It is highly likely that North Korea will try to consolidate its power inside the country by an armed protest, as [April] 15th is the North’s largest celebration of the “Day of the Sun” and the 7th congress is upcoming,” a source at the defense ministry said, referring the 104th birthday of the late founder Kim Il Sung on April 15.

After North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s order on March 15 to test a nuclear warhead and ballistic missile, the possibility of a fifth nuclear test and a ballistic missile launch, which are banned under the UN Security Council resolution, has dramatically risen.

CNN also reported late Tuesday that U.S. intelligence satellites detected signs that the North is preparing to launch a mobile ballistic missile, most likely to be a Musudan missile, which could potentially hit Guam and Shemya Island in the outer reaches of Alaska’s Aleutian chain.

If the North carries out the launch, it would mark the first time that North Korea launched a medium- or long-range ballistic missile from a mobile launcher, which is seen as a top threat by Washington.

In order to fire a Musudan missile, with a range around 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles), the North has to declare a no-sail zone and a no-fly zone to protect ships and planes in operation.

However, it has not taken such a step nor informed the International Maritime Organization about the country’s plan for a missile launch.

If Pyongyang does move ahead, it will provoke strong protest from the international community, which has already punished the North with the strongest-ever UN sanctions after its fourth nuclear test and a long-range missile test earlier this year.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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