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(3rd LD) N. Korea says leader Kim oversaw long-range artillery strike drill

North Korea 11:01 March 10, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS unification ministry's comments, details in 7th, last paras)
By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, March 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Tuesday that leader Kim Jong-un supervised a long-range artillery strike drill a day earlier to inspect his forces' "sudden military counterattack capability."

On Monday, South Korea's military said the North fired three short-range projectiles off its east coast in what appears to be part of its artillery strike drill involving multiple rocket launchers. It marked the second time in a week that the North has tested weapons.

Kim "guided another firepower strike drill of long-range artillery sub-units of the Korean People's Army on the front," the Korean Central News Agency said.

"The purpose of the firepower strike drill was to inspect the sudden military counterattack capability of the long-range artillery units on the front," it added.

At Kim's order, the artillery men fired all at once and they "hit the target with excellent marksmanship," the KCNA said.

Kim expressed "great satisfaction" with the result, urging the unit to "go on in the direction of further strengthening the artillery training," it noted.

This photo disclosed by the Korean Central News Agency on March 10, 2020, shows Kim Jong-un watching a long-range artillery strike drill. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

It, however, did not provide other details on what types of artillery were tested and where the drill took place. Photos released by North Korea's state media showed firings of what appear to be artillery guns and a multiple rocket launcher, similar weapons to those tested last week.

According to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff, the latest projectiles were fired northeastward from areas near its eastern town of Sondok with some of them flying around 200 kilometers and reaching a maximum altitude of around 50 km.

Monday's firings came a week after the North test-fired two short-range projectiles, which Pyongyang later claimed to be part of a long-range artillery firing drill overseen by Kim.

The latest firings also came five days after Kim sent a personal letter to President Moon Jae-in and wished him and other South Koreans good health amid the massive outbreak of the novel coronavirus in an apparent reconciliatory gesture amid chilled inter-Korean relations.

South Korea's presidential office on Monday accused North Korea of raising tensions, saying such military exercises do not help efforts to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea conducts a long-range artillery strike drill in this photo disclosed by the Korean Central News Agency on March 10, 2020. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The U.S. State Department also called on North Korea to avoid provocations and return to nuclear talks after the latest firings.

North Korea conducted missile tests 13 times last year, with the latest on carried out in November in show of force and frustration over stalemated denuclearization talks with Washington.

Nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled since the no-deal summit between Kim and Trump in February last year.

Kim told a party meeting late in December that he does not feel bound anymore by his self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, saying that the world will witness a "new strategic weapon" in the near future.

An official of Seoul's unification ministry handling inter-Korean relations told reporters that the North's recent military drills appear aimed at drawing attention from the U.S. and South Korea, and pressuring them to change their approach to Pyongyang.

A projectile blasts off during North Korea's long-range artillery strike exercise in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency on March 10, 2020 (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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