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(LEAD) N. Korea says leader Kim inspected long-range artillery units' strike drill

All News 06:57 March 03, 2020

(ATTN :RECASTS lead; ADDS more details throughout, photos; UPDATES with minor edits)
By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw artillery units' firing drills, state media said Tuesday, a day after South Korea said the communist nation fired what appeared to be two ballistic missiles.

On Monday, South Korea's military said the North fired two projectiles believed to be short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea in the first such launches since Pyongyang warned of a "new strategic weapon" and "shocking actual action" at the beginning of the year.

After inspecting the long-range artillery sub-units' testing of the multiple rocket launcher system, Kim expressed "great satisfaction" and called for a strong "military readiness posture."

"He said that the People's Army should keep full combat-readiness to protect the sky, land and sea of the country from any encroachment, steadily increase its combat capabilities," according to the Korean Central News Agency.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects artillery units' firing drills on March, 2, 2020, in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

North Korea conducted 13 major weapons tests last year, but has been keeping its military operations low-key recently amid the outbreak of the coronavirus across the globe.

The latest projectiles were fired within a 20-second interval and flew around 240 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of around 35 km, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Following the launches, South Korea's security-related ministers held an emergency videoconferencing session and expressed "strong concern" over the North's acts, denouncing them as "not helpful to the efforts to ease military tensions" on the peninsula.

The North appears to be trying to strengthen its internal power base amid fears over the spread of COVID-19 and economic difficulties, due mainly to the prolonged sanctions regime, watchers say.

North Korea claims that it does not have a single confirmed case of the novel virus.

Monday's firings came just days after the first anniversary of the second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi.

Little progress has been made in the denuclearization talks since the two-day meeting collapsed without a deal amid the two sides' wide differences over Pyongyang's denuclearization steps and Washington's sanctions relief.

In his New Year's message, Kim warned that the North will show off a "new strategic weapon" in the near future, saying he no longer sees a reason to stick to his earlier moratorium on nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

The Korean Central News Agency said on March 3 North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided the firing drill of long-range artillery units the previous day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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