SEOUL (REUTERS) – North Korea fired at least one suspected ballistic missile towards the sea to the east of the Korean peninsula on Saturday (March 5), militaries in the region said, an apparent test just days before the South’s presidential election.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the launch of one suspected ballistic missile on Saturday, while the office of Japan’s Prime Minister also said it was a suspected ballistic missile.
US Indo-Pacific Command said it condemns North Korea’s ballistic missile launch, calling on the reclusive regime to refrain from further destabilising acts.
The launch was the ninth this year. The last was on Feb 27 when North Korea said it tested systems for a reconnaissance satellite.
The South Korean military said Saturday’s launch came from a location near Sunan, where Pyongyang’s international airport is located. The airport has been the site of previous tests, including the Feb 27 launch.
South Korea’s National Security Council will convene an emergency meeting, the presidential Blue House said.
South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) condemned North Korea’s “unprecedented repeated firing of ballistic missiles”, which goes against peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the international community, according to a statement from the presidential Blue House.
South Korea will “even more closely monitor North Korea’s nuclear and missile-related facilities, such as Yongbyon and Punggye-ri”, and take necessary measures, the NSC said.
Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said the launch was “not acceptable”.
“The significant pace at which North Korea is developing its missile-launching technology is not something our country and the surrounding regions can overlook,” he said.
Mr Kishi said the North Korean projectile reached a height of 550km and flew for a distance of 300km, similar to South Korean military’s estimated 560km height and 270km range
The launch underscores the challenges facing whoever wins Wednesday’s presidential election in South Korea.
With denuclearisation talks stalled, North Korea conducted a record number of missile launches in January. It appears to be preparing to launch a spy satellite in the near future, and has suggested it could resume testing of nuclear weapons or its longest range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017.
Analysts say North Korea could use the upcoming presidential transition in South Korea or a big national holiday on April 15 to test fire a major new missile or other weapon.
“The timing of North Korea’s missile testing may seem odd to us, given the global focus on Ukraine,” Jean Lee, a fellow at the Washington-based Wilson Centre, said on Twitter.
“But it makes perfect sense in North Korea, where scientists are focused on perfect new weapons for Kim to show off at a big military parade in mid-April.”
North Korea’s ballistic missile launches are banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions, which have imposed sanctions on the country over its weapons programmes.
“North Korea may be preparing a ‘satellite launch’ around the Kim Il Sung birth anniversary on April 15 and before South Korea conducts another satellite test of its own,” said Professor Leif-Eric Easley from Ewha University in Seoul.
The United States has said it is open to talks without preconditions, but Pyongyang says talks are only possible after the United States and allies drop hostile policies.
On Friday, the US-based 38 North project, which monitors North Korea, said the country’s main nuclear facility is in full swing, producing fuel for potential nuclear weapons and an expansion of its nuclear production facilities.