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(LEAD) N. Korea begins regular wintertime drills, no unusual signs detected yet: JCS

Defense 13:34 December 15, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more comments, chances of another military parade in paras 5, 10-11, 2nd photo)

SEOUL, Dec. 15 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has begun regular wintertime military drills, and no unusual movements have been detected so far, the South Korean military said Tuesday.

"We believe that North Korea began their regular wintertime drills," Col. Kim Jun-rak, spokesperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), told a regular briefing.

The drills have yet to be in full swing, and there are no signs indicating any imminent provocative acts, according to another JCS officer.

The communist country usually kicks off their exercise for winter in December to continue through early spring, and the program has often involved artillery firing drills.

This year's drills could be held in a smaller scale due to the new coronavirus, though it depends on its political decision, the officer said. North Korea has issued the highest level of alert to stave off the virus.

Early this month, the U.S. flew several types of surveillance aircraft over South Korea in an apparent move to monitor the North.

This photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency shows rocket launcher vehicles during a military parade held at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2020, to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the Workers' Party. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Pyongyang has not made major military moves in recent months, though it unveiled a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), along with diverse military assets, during a military parade on Oct. 10, to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party.

In the face of difficulties caused by the new coronavirus and prolonged international sanctions, North Korea launched the "80-day campaign" in October to achieve the country's national and economic goals by the end of the year.

Some speculate that it could make provocations, such as missile launches, around the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in January.

Asked about the chances of the North's staging of another round of a military parade next month, the spokesperson only said, "South Korea and the U.S. intelligence authorities are closely monitoring related movements in close coordination."

Last month, Seoul's National Intelligence Service told lawmakers that the North could again hold a military parade during a planned party congress in January. Some military equipment mobilized for the October parade was known to have been left in Pyongyang.

This image captured from a documentary film aired by North Korea's official Korean Central TV on Jan. 10, 2020, shows test-firings of multiple rocket launchers by an all-female military unit on the western border island of Changrin in November 2019. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the firing drills. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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