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Friday, April 19, 2024

North launches intermediate-range ballistic missile into East Sea

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South Korean citizens watch news coverage of North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
South Korean citizens watch news coverage of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) into the East Sea on Tuesday, the third ballistic missile launch of the year, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the same day.

This latest ballistic missile launch comes 15 days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw firing drills on March 18 that put nearly all of South Korea within striking distance.

The missile was fired from the Pyongyang region at 6:52 a.m. Tuesday and flew about 600 kilometers (372.8 miles) before landing in the East Sea.

“We immediately tracked and monitored the North Korean missile launch, closely shared relevant information with the United States and Japan and are currently comprehensively analyzing the detailed specifications,” the JCS said. “We strongly condemn North Korea’s missile launch as a clear act of provocation that seriously threatens the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

Military officials believe that North Korea may have test-fired an intermediate-range missile equipped with a hypersonic warhead to test the warhead’s performance following an engine test in March.

Pyongyang previously announced on March 20 that it had successfully conducted a ground jet test of a solid-fuel engine for a new type of intermediate hypersonic missile.

Hypersonic missiles can travel at a speed of Mach 5, maneuver on unpredictable flight paths and fly at low altitudes. At Mach 5, a hypersonic missile can fly the 195-kilometer distance between Pyongyang and Seoul in approximately two minutes.

President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday in a Cabinet meeting that North Korea is attempting to unsettle South Korean society ahead of the general election next week.

“The North Korean regime is trying to rock our society before the general election with continuous missile and other military provocations,” Yoon said. “These provocations will only end up strongly uniting the hearts of our people.”

Yoon also called for the South Korean military to be on full alert for any further provocations from North Korea.

The People Power Party (PPP) on Tuesday criticized North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile launch as “an attempt to stir up inter-Korean tensions by creating military apprehension between the two Koreas in the run-up to the general election.”

“It’s a scheme aimed at stirring up a conflict within the South by creating inter-Korean military tensions with the elections just around the corner,” said Park Jung-ha, the PPP spokesperson for the party’s election campaign committee. “We must keep an eye on the fact that North Korea’s provocations aimed at escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula are likely to increase in intensity and frequency in the future.”

Park also noted Russia’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution last week extending the panel of experts overseeing sanctions against North Korea, remarking that it has resulted in an absence of international monitoring of the regime’s nuclear and missile development.

“Our military will protect the people and ensure their safety based on the ironclad South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture,” Park said. “The North should bear in mind that continued provocations will only lead to international isolation and bring about the end of the regime.”

BY LIM JEONG-WON [lim.jeongwon@joongang.co.kr]