North Korea fires two ballistic missiles ahead of Kamala Harris’ visit to South

A man watches a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on Sept 28, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, the South’s military said, just a day before US Vice President Kamala Harris is set to arrive in Seoul.

The launch came two days after South Korea and US forces conducted a military drill in waters off the South’s east coast involving an aircraft carrier. On Sunday, North Korea fired another ballistic missile towards the sea off its east coast.

Wednesday’s missiles were launched from the Sunan area of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, between 6.10pm (0910 GMT) and 6.20pm (0920 GMT), South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

They flew about 360km, reaching an altitude of 30km and a maximum velocity of Mach 6, they said, adding a detailed analysis was underway.

“North Korea’s provocations will further strengthen the South Korean-US deterrence and response capability, and only deepen (North Korea’s) isolation from the international community,” they said in a statement.

North Korean state media did not mention the reports of the latest launches, but its leader Kim Jong Un has said its development of nuclear weapons and missiles are aimed at defending itself against US threats.

Japan’s coast guard also reported a suspected ballistic missile test, which its minister of state for defence, Mr Toshiro Ino, condemned as “unacceptable”.

He told reporters: “North Korea’s series of actions, including repeated ballistic missile launches, poses a threat to the peace and security of Japan, the region and international society.”

The launch, part of a record-breaking blitz of weapons tests this year by North Korea, also comes after Seoul’s spy agency warned that Pyongyang was close to conducting another nuclear test.

The North appears to have completed “a third tunnel at its Punggye-ri nuclear site,” MP Yoo Sang-bum told reporters after a briefing from Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.

Following a stop in Japan, Ms Harris will land in the South Korean capital and visit the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas on Thursday.

In a speech hours earlier aboard the destroyer USS Howard destroyer in the Japanese city of Yokosuka, Ms Harris had called Sunday’s missile launch part of an “illicit weapons programme which threatens regional stability and violates multiple UN Security Council resolutions”.

North Korea has tested missiles at an unprecedented pace this year, while this week’s joint drill is a show of force intended to warn against what could be its first nuclear test since 2017.

The isolated country has completed preparations for a nuclear test, a window for which could open between China’s party congress in October and the US mid-term elections in November, South Korean lawmakers said on Wednesday.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subject to UN sanctions, which the Security Council has steadily, and unanimously, stepped up over the years to cut off funding for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

North Korea rejects the UN resolutions as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defence and space exploration, and has criticised military exercises by the US and South Korea as proof of their hostile intentions. REUTERS, AFP

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