Defying U.N. censure, North Korea blasts missile into Sea of Japan

AFP-JIJI

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided the military’s latest rocket-firing drill, state media said Sunday, confirming the missile launch in defiance of U.N. censure.

Saturday’s launch was the first since the U.N. Security Council on July 17 officially condemned North Korea for its recent series of ballistic missile tests, in violation of U.N. resolutions.

The North’s KCNA state news agency described the missile launch by the army as a “rocket-firing drill” to simulate a strike on military bases in South Korea where 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed.

“(Kim) examined a firing plan mapped out in consideration of the present location of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces’ bases . . . and under the simulated conditions of the battle to strike and destroy them before guiding the drill,” it said.

The launch was intended to mark the anniversary Sunday of the cease-fire agreement at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, KCNA said. It did not say where the drill took place.

Seoul’s army said earlier the North had fired a short-range missile into the sea Saturday night, the latest in a recent series of launches that heightened tension on the peninsula. The North often fires missiles and rockets as a show of force or to express anger at perceived provocations, but the frequency of the recent tests, six in the past month, is unusual.

“The North fired . . . a short-range ballistic missile into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) at 9:40 p.m.,” a spokesman for the South Korean Defence Ministry said.

The missile, with an estimated range of 500 km, was fired in the northeastern direction from Jangsan Cape on North Korea’s western coast, only 15 km from the tense sea border with the South, he said.

North Korea’s recent missile launches were carried out at locations increasingly close to the border with the South, a move analysts say is aimed at stepping up threats against Seoul.

The flash point maritime border on the Yellow Sea was a scene of several bloody naval clashes and the North’s shelling of a border island in 2010 that left four South Koreans including two civilians dead.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s crisis management team said the launch was “extremely problematic” for aircraft and shipping lines, adding on its Twitter account that it would lodge a protest with North Korea.

U.N. resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology. The U.N.’s latest criticism on the North met with angry response from Pyongyang, which called it “absolutely intolerable” and defended the missile launches as a response to “madcap war maneuvers” by the U.S.

The launch came at a time when Pyongyang has been playing hawk and dove in recent weeks, mixing its tests with peace gestures that have been largely dismissed by Seoul. The two Koreas are currently trying to sort out logistics for the North’s participation in the Asian Games, which begin in September in the South Korean city of Incheon.

“Our military sees the launch by North Korea, conducted while expressing its will to participate in the upcoming Incheon Asian Games, as part of its traditional dual strategy of engagement and pressure,” Seoul’s military spokesman said.