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(LEAD) N. Korea fires 2 short-range ballistic missiles toward East Sea: JCS

North Korea 07:48 March 21, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more details throughout)

SEOUL, March 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Saturday fired two projectiles presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, the latest in a series of such launches this month.

They were fired from areas in its western province of North Pyongan earlier in the day, the JCS said, without providing more details.

"Our military is monitoring the situation in case there are additional launches and maintaining a readiness posture," the JCS said.

It is the third time that the communist country has carried out such weapons tests in March after months of hiatus.

The last such test took place on March 9 when it fired at least three short-range projectiles believed to have come from a super-large multiple rocket launcher, which came a week after the firing of two short-range projectiles of the same type, according to the JCS.

The previous rounds, which occurred under the guidance of leader Kim Jong-un, appear to have been part of its artillery strike drill for the wintertime exercise, JCS officers said, noting that the drill is likely to continue throughout this month.

North Korea conducts a long-range artillery strike drill on March 9, 2020, in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency the following day. The report came one day after South Korea's military said the North fired three short-range projectiles off its east coast in what appears to be part of an artillery strike drill involving multiple rocket launchers. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The tests came at a time when the North is struggling to contain the novel coronavirus which has swept through the whole world. Pyongyang has said that it has not reported a COVID-19 case, a claim doubted by many.

Of 13 rounds of weapons tests carried out in 2019, the May 9 test took place in North Pyongan Province, when two projectiles believed to be its version of Russia's Iskander were fired.

Its adjacent South Pyongan Province was also the venue for two other tests -- held in September and October -- when the North fired two projectiles each from its super-large launcher system.

The weapons tests came amid the stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

In his New Year's Day message, leader Kim warned he will show off a "new strategic weapon" in the near future. Experts said the "strategic weapon" may mean an advanced type of its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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