(ATTN: ADDS more info from 8th para, photos)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, March 30 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has tested a "super-large" multiple rocket launcher, state media reported on Monday, a day after South Korea's military said the communist state fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles.
Seoul's military said on Sunday that the missiles were fired from the eastern coastal city of Wonsan, flying 230 kilometers with a maximum altitude of 30 km. The launches marked the latest in a series of weapons test or artillery firing drills the north has conducted this year.
Sunday's test was aimed to "verify tactical and technical characteristics of a super-large multiple rocket launcher once again," according to the Rodong Sinmun, the North's official newspaper. "The test-firing was successfully carried out."
The paper did not mention whether leader Kim Jong-un had observed the launch, nor did it elaborate on other details on the weapon and place where the test was conducted.
North Korea has carried out a series of weapons tests and artillery firing exercises this year. Except for small artillery firing drills, Sunday's launch marked the North's fourth major weapons test this month.
It also came about a week after the North test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles. The North said leader Kim had observed the demonstration fire of a newly-developed "tactical guided weapon."
Watchers say the North's recent military moves appear to be primarily aimed at strengthening his grip on power amid fears of the spread of the new coronavirus and economic difficulties caused by the prolonged international sanctions regime.
Following the North's latest weapons test, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said it is "very inappropriate" to carry out weapons tests as the world is grappling with COVID-19 and called for Pyongyang's immediate halt to such acts.
The U.S. State Department urged Pyongyang to avoid provocations and return to the negotiating table.
North Korea has been making an all-out campaign to block the new coronavirus pandemic from flowing onto its soil. Though the North claims it has no confirmed case of the virus infection, skeptics say the reclusive state might be hiding an outbreak and be in dire need for outside help.
Sunday's launch came a week after North Korea revealed that U.S. President Donald Trump had sent a letter to leader Kim, offering assistance in the fight against the coronavirus.
The North expressed gratitude but cautioned against misjudging the two countries' ties based only on the personal relations of the two leaders. It has not given an answer to Washington's offer for help.
North Korea conducted missile tests 13 times last year, with the last one in November in a show of force and frustration over stalemated denuclearization talks with Washington following the no-deal summit between Kim and Trump in February of the same year.
Late in December, leader Kim told his party meeting that he does not feel bound anymore by his self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, saying the world will witness a "new strategic weapon" in the near future.
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