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North Korea Tests ‘Multiple Rocket Launchers and Tactical Guided Weapons’

Kim Jong Un personally “gave an order of firing” of the projectiles into the sea off North Korea’s east coast, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Kumyagang Power Station No. 2 in North Korea in this May 4, 2019, photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency. VOA

North Korea tested “multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” state media confirmed Saturday, the first comments on a launch that has further raised military tensions.

Kim Jong Un personally “gave an order of firing” of the projectiles into the sea off North Korea’s east coast, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

Pictures posted in North Korean state media show Kim peering through binoculars during the launch, then smiling as he points at a screen apparently showing an island target being destroyed.

Analysts say one of the weapons fired appears to be a newly developed short-range ballistic missile. If confirmed, it would be the first North Korean missile test in a year and a half.

“The purpose of the drill was to estimate and inspect the operating ability and the accuracy of striking duty performance of large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” KCNA reported.

The test is North Korea’s latest attempt to gradually increase pressure on and signal its frustration with the United States and South Korea, since the breakdown of nuclear talks.

Pyongyang’s statement did not contain any explicit threats or even mentions of the United States or South Korea. Seoul on Friday condemned the launch as needlessly provocative and a violation of an inter-Korean military agreement.

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North Korean military conducts a “strike drill” for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea, in this May 4, 2019, photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). VOA

Missile or projectile?

There had been confusion about the exact type of weapons North Korea launched. South Korea’s defense ministry initially characterized the launch as a “short-range missile” test. Later statements referred to the weapons as “projectiles.”

“That’s no projectile,” Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said in a tweet. “That’s the new SRBM (short-range ballistic missile) that North Korea paraded in February.”

At least externally, the missile appears similar to the Iskandar, a short-range, ballistic missile developed by Russia, analysts say.

Under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is banned from conducting ballistic missile launches. Seoul says the weapons traveled from 70-200 kilometers, which would be classified as a short-range test.

North Korea has not carried out a missile test since November 2017. The self-imposed moratorium has helped facilitate nuclear talks with U.S. President Donald Trump.

In Kim’s view, the moratorium, which was never formalized, does not cover short-range tests. But by launching multiple short-range projectiles, Kim may be attempting to test the limits of how Washington interprets that moratorium.

Last month, North Korea said it tested a “tactical guided weapon.” Commercial satellite images have also detected increased activity at some North Korean nuclear and satellite launch facilities in recent weeks.

multiple rocket launchers
A man watches a television screen showing a news report on North Korea firing several short-range projectiles from its east coast, on a street in Tokyo, May 4, 2019. VOA

Trump: Deal still possible

So far, Trump has played down the provocations. But he has also not signaled a change in his negotiating stance. Reacting to the latest test, Trump said he still believes a nuclear deal with North Korea is possible.

Kim, who wants the removal of international sanctions hurting his economy, has said he will give the United States until the end of the year to become more flexible in the nuclear talks. Trump says he will not relax sanctions until Kim agrees to completely abandon his nuclear program. 

Deadlocked talks

Trump and Kim have held two summits over the past year. At the first meeting, in Singapore, both men agreed to work “toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But U.S. officials later acknowledged the two sides never agreed on what that means.

At the second meeting in Vietnam, Trump rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle a part of North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for major sanctions relief. Since that meeting, the two sides have struggled to even hold talks, U.S. officials say.

multiple rocket launchers
FILE – U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrives at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Feb. 3, 2019. VOA

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, will visit South Korea and Seoul later this week to help advance the talks.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose liberal government has prioritized engagement with the North, says he is willing to hold a fourth summit with Kim anytime, anywhere.

Last week, Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said he is willing to meet with Kim “unconditionally and talk with him frankly with an open mind.” (VOA)

Next Story

North Korea Bans Imports of Chinese Pork on Fears of African Swine Fever Epidemic

“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source

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The import ban seems to have had no effect on the price of pork, making the source believe that Chinese pork is still getting in. Wikimedia Commons

North Korean authorities have banned imports of Chinese pork as an African swine fever (ASF) epidemic rages north of the Yalu River border between the two countries.

According to the latest update from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, China has seen 138 ASF outbreaks since August 2018 and more than a million pigs have been culled since the initial outbreak in Liaoning province, which borders North Korea.

North Korea’s ministry of agriculture confirmed the country’s first ASF outbreak in Chagang province on May 23 and South Korea’s ministry of unification has proposed discussions on how the two Koreas can work together to stop the further spread of the disease.

But RFA sources in North Korea say Chinese pork is still being sold in local markets. “A few days ago I heard from a customs official that North Korea has completely blocked all imports of pork and beef from China to prevent the spread of African swine fever,” said a source from North Hamgyong province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on June 2.

chinese pork, african swine fever
Pigs stand in a barn at a pig farm in Jiangjiaqiao village in northern China’s Hebei province on May 8, 2019. Pork lovers worldwide are wincing at prices that have jumped by up to 40 percent as China’s struggle to stamp out African swine fever in its vast pig herds sends shockwaves through global meat markets. RFA

“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source. “I heard that in some areas, including Pyongyang and Sinuiju, they are trying to control pork sales, but no action has been taken yet in North Hamgyong,” said the source. The source said that the ban is quite rare, especially since diseases among livestock are common during this part of the year.

“There have been infectious swine diseases in the past, but they never banned the import of pork from China. At this time of year, we are usually hit with infectious swine diseases and many pigs are culled, but none of the residents bury the dead pigs,” the source said. The import ban seems to have had no effect on the price of pork, making the source believe that Chinese pork is still getting in.

“The price of pork is between 14 and 15 Chinese Yuan (slightly more than $2) per kilogram, which is the same as before the authorities banned Chinese pork. Even though customs authorities are blocking pork imports from China, there is so much pork being smuggled in,” the source said. Another source, also from North Hamgyong, said the ban is strange, given that North Korean customs officials generally follow the lead of their Chinese counterparts.

“On the first of the month, pork that was to be brought in from China was quarantined at North Korean customs and sent back. It is unusual for our customs office to block this pork shipment because it didn’t have any problem going through Chinese customs,” said the second source.

“That [particular] pork shipment was to be brought in by a Chinese citizen of Korean descent who is a restaurant owner in Rason,” the second source said. “He thought there would be no problem going through customs because he regularly brings in pork from China. But the Wonjong customs office did not let it pass through on orders from the Central Committee,” the second source said.

chinese pork, african swine fever
“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source. Wikimedia Commons

The second source said the restaurant owner was surprised his shipment was held back. “He has had no problem bringing in pork from China for several years now. Even when swine fever [started] spreading in China, he kept bringing it in. It’s the first time he has been stopped and he’s totally bewildered,” the second source said.

The second source said that the price of pork remains stable despite the ban, and no cases of ASF have been reported in Rason. Even so, residents have become fearful of the disease.

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“[They think] African swine fever is highly contagious and has a fatality rate of 100%, but Chinese pork is still being sold at the local markets and no restrictions have been announced,” said the second source. According to a USDA fact sheet, ASF is deadly only to domestic and feral pigs and does not affect humans. People can, however, spread the virus by coming in contact with the bodily fluids of infected livestock.

According to a source in South Pyongan province, North Korea has not culled pigs in any of its state-run farms where an ASF outbreak has occurred. The pigs instead were supplied to sausage factories at low cost. This has caused a flood of sausages to enter the market, cutting the price of sausage in half. (RFA)

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.