March 02, 2020

North Korea Launches 2 Unidentified Projectiles, South Korea Says
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea launched two short-range projectiles off its east coast Monday in the country's first weapons test in three months, returning to its provocative behavior a year after Kim Jong Un's failed summit with President Donald Trump.The projectiles were launched near Wonsan, a port town east of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, South Korean military officials said. They flew 149 miles before landing in the waters between North Korea and Japan, the officials said, adding that they were analyzing data to determine the type of projectiles used in the launch.South Korean officials said the launch Monday appeared to be part of a military drill North Korea began Friday."This kind of act by North Korea does not help efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula," the South Korean military said in a statement. "We once again urge the North to immediately stop it."In its previous weapons test Nov. 28, North Korea launched two rockets from its east coast, firings that were overseen by Kim. South Korea later said the two short-range projectiles were fired from what North Korea called a "super-large multiple rocket launcher," a new weapon the North had developed to target South Korean and U.S. military bases farther from North Korea's border with the South.But North Korea had been refraining from any weapons tests since Kim told a meeting at the end of December that he had all but abandoned hopes for diplomacy with Washington and ordered his country to brace for a prolonged standoff with the United States and endure sanctions. In that meeting, Kim also said his country no longer felt bound by its self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles and that the world would witness a new strategic weapon "in the near future."Kim has also been keeping himself largely from public view as he locked his country down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak from neighboring China. On Friday, he appeared to resume his public activities, inspecting a joint strike drill of units of the North Korean People's Army, according to the state-run media.The military drill coincided with the anniversary of Kim's summit last year with Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. The summit collapsed over differences over how fast North Korea would roll back its nuclear weapons program and when Washington should ease sanctions.The Monday launch came three days after Kim fired one of his closest aides for corruption during a meeting of the Political Bureau of his Workers' Party. The meeting focused on "enforcing top-class anti-epidemic measures to contain the viral epidemic spreading rapidly across the world," although the North itself has not reported any cases of the new coronavirus.During the meeting, Kim excoriated "abuse of power, practices of privileges, indulgence in bureaucracy, corruption and irregularities" among senior officials of the party's Central Committee and at the party's cadre-training center.Then, the rubber-stamp Political Bureau dismissed Ri Man Gon and Pak Thae Dok from the posts of vice chairmen of the Central Committee, it said.Ri was one of the most prominent North Korean officials to fall out of Kim's favor in recent years. As vice chairman of the Central Committee, Ri has helped Kim in monitoring the loyalty of the party elites and helping Kim decide whom to promote or demote. Ri has also led the party's powerful Department of Organization and Guidance, which does the same work.The North's latest launch, the first in three months, came at a time when South Korea was grappling with an explosive outbreak of the coronavirus, with more than 4,000 cases, the largest number outside China.North Korea's first weapons test this year came days after the U.S. and South Korea postponed their joint annual military drills, originally scheduled for this month, because of the coronavirus outbreak.North Korea "appears intent on raising the stakes before South Korea's April elections and before the Super Tuesday primaries of the U.S. presidential campaign," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. "North Korea is making clear with these missile tests it will continue to improve military capabilities and make outsized demands, despite the political and public health preoccupations of Beijing, Seoul and Washington."South Korea holds its parliamentary elections April 15.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
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