Pyongyang 'may launch missiles today'

SEOUL • North Korea has deployed one or two intermediate-range ballistic missiles on the east coast, possibly preparing for launch today, the anniversary of the birth of the country's founder, or thereabouts, reported South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

A mobile launcher was spotted carrying up to two Musudan missiles, Yonhap said yesterday, citing multiple South Korean government sources. The North conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch the following month that led to fresh sanctions by the United Nations.

The missiles were deployed around the eastern port of Wonsan about three weeks ago, Yonhap said, citing an unnamed Seoul official. "There is an ample possibility that the North would launch them around Kim Il Sung's birthday," it quoted the official as saying.

The nuclear-armed state has yet to test the Musudan missile, known to have a range of up to 4,000km.

South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun declined to confirm the Yonhap report, but said the military had been on high alert for any missile launch by the North since its leader, Mr Kim Jong Un, said last month that it would soon test a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that US intelligence satellites had spotted signs that Pyongyang could be preparing for an unprecedented launch of a mobile ballistic missile.

South Korean experts have said the North might choose to display a show of force ahead of a major ruling party congress next month, where it is expected to declare itself a nuclear power, or around the April 15 anniversary of the birth of Mr Kim's grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

Some experts say the North could choose to test-fire the Musudan in the near future as it tries to build an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to put the mainland US within range.

American intelligence believes North Korea's ability to reach the US is low, but its capabilities will increase, making continued investment in missile defence essential.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'Pyongyang 'may launch missiles today''. Print Edition | Subscribe