Security Council condemns latest North Korean missile launches

AP, AFP-JIJI

The U.N. Security Council on Friday condemned North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches, calling them “unacceptable,” a clear violation of U.N. resolutions banning such tests, and a threat to regional and international security.

A statement from the U.N.’s most powerful body after an urgent meeting called by the United States reiterated the council’s demand that North Korea comply with Security Council resolutions which prohibit all ballistic missile activity.

The council met hours after the North fired a medium-range missile from a site north of Pyongyang that flew about 800 km (500 miles) before crashing into the sea off the country’s east coast. The resolution also condemned the North’s firing of short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on March 10, in response to new sanctions from South Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has intensified the North’s nuclear activities in defiance of U.N. sanctions since the beginning of the year — detonating its fourth nuclear test in January which it called an “H-bomb of justice,” launching a long-range rocket in February and following up this month with ballistic missile launches.

Friday’s launch follows Kim’s recent order for tests of a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying atomic warheads. And it comes during the annual South Korean-U.S. military drills which the North views as a rehearsal for an invasion and has strongly condemned.

Two weeks ago, the Security Council responded to the nuclear test and rocket launch by unanimously approving the toughest-ever sanctions against North Korea.

The council statement adopted Friday expressed “grave concern” at the North’s reaction to that resolution and its demands.

The new sanctions include mandatory inspections of cargo leaving and entering North Korea by land, sea or air; a ban on all sales or transfers of small arms and light weapons to Pyongyang; and expulsion of North Korean diplomats who engage in “illicit activities.”

In light of the ballistic missile launches on March 10 and 18, the council urged all countries “to redouble their efforts” to implement those sanctions and previous measures against the North.

Motohide Yoshikawa, Japan’s U.N. ambassador, said North Korea took the message from the new sanctions resolution “totally wrong.”

He expressed hope before the meeting that the council would unite to tell North Korea to change its policy — and that means dismantling their nuclear program and halting the use of missile technology, and using “that money to feed the people and make the life better for the North Koreans.”

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the latest missile launches underscored the importance of implementing the new sanctions resolution, which targets North Korea’s mining, trade and financial sectors.

“If anybody on the council needed a reminder of why that resolution is so important … the North Korean regime just provided another one,” Power said.

Before the council meeting, Power denounced Friday’s ballistic missile launch as a flagrant violation of U.N. resolutions and stressed the link between the dismal human rights situation in North Korea and “its dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

She spoke at the start of a panel with four abused women who fled the country, including one whose husband sold their son to a wealthy couple “for a little money and two bars of soap.” Talking about her brought the ambassador to tears.

“It is no coincidence that the North Korean government would rather grow its nuclear weapons program than grow its own children,” Power said, citing reports that 25 percent of children in the country are stunted.

Elsewhere, after analyzing satellite imagery from Pyongyang’s main testing site, a U.S. think tank said that North Korea could carry out another nuclear test at any time.

Activity at the Punggye-ri underground facility suggested the North was maintaining tunnels as well as cleaning up after its detonation in January, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said Friday.

“It is highly likely that (the) site is capable of supporting additional tests at any time,” it said on its closely watched 38 North website.

South Korean military officials said two missiles were launched Friday from Sukchon, in the country’s southwest.

U.S. defense officials said they believe Pyongyang fired medium-range Nodong missiles from road-mobile launch vehicles.

The Nodong is a scaled-up Scud variant with a maximum range of around 1,300 km (800 miles).

A Nodong test is more provocative, given its greater range, which makes it capable of hitting most of Japan.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Friday’s launches were clearly the result of Kim’s order.

“North Korea appears to be speeding up test launches to advance its nuclear capabilities,” ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said.

North Korea has been hit by five sets of U.N. sanctions since it first tested an atomic device in 2006.