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(2nd LD) N. Korea fired two cruise missiles off west coast Sunday: sources

All News 08:30 March 24, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS more details, background info in paras 3, 6-13, photo; CHANGES dateline)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired two cruise missiles off the west coast Sunday, sources said Wednesday, in Pyongyang's first missile test in about a year and also the first since the launch of the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden.

"What they fired were cruise missiles, not ballistic missiles, and they were detected by our assets," a source said.

Other details, including their exact type and where they were fired from, were not immediately known.

If confirmed, it would be the first known missile test by the communist country since April last year, when the North launched multiple short-range cruise missiles into the East Sea.

Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles are not sanctioned by U.N. Security Council resolutions. The North has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since late 2017.

The test took place just days after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Korea and agreed with their counterparts here -- Defense Minister Suh Wook and Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong -- to work together closely to resolve the North's nuclear and missile issues as their top priority.

The move also came after South Korea and the U.S. also staged their springtime joint military exercise for nine days until Thursday.

Though Seoul and Washington said that the exercise is defensive in nature and was staged in a smaller scale amid the COVID-19 situation and for peace efforts with the North, Pyongyang lodged a strong protest and threatened to scrap an inter-Korean military agreement.

The latest test was made public belatedly Wednesday after reports by foreign press outlets.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said it does not announce missile activities of the North in case they do not involve ballistic ones.

North Korea has also remained mum on its recent missile activities.

Currently, North Korea is carrying out its wintertime drills, which are believed to have begun in December and usually continue through the end of March, according to officials.

Amid stalled denuclearization talks with the U.S., North Korea has been working on the development of diverse conventional weapons, including short-range ballistic missiles, since 2019, and test-fired them multiple times.

These photos published by the North's daily Rodong Sinmun on June 9, 2017, show the launch of the country's new surface-to-ship cruise missile. The report said the country's top leader Kim Jong-un observed the missile launch, which South Korea detected a day earlier. The North's media said the test-firing was aimed at verifying the "combat application efficiency of the overall weapon system." (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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