North Korea reports COVID cases, fires 3 ballistic missile tests

SEOUL, May 12 (Reuters) – North Korea fired three ballistic missiles at sea off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea and Japan said, in the latest tests aimed at advancing its nuclear weapons programs. armament, even as it first reported a COVID-19 outbreak.

Three short-range ballistic missiles were fired at around 6:30 p.m. (0930 GMT) from the Sunan district of North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, home to an international airport and where it fired its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong- March 17, March 24, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

The missiles traveled about 360 km (224 miles), reaching an altitude of 90 km and a top speed of Mach 5, the JCS said. The United States condemned the launch as a violation of UN bans on such tests, but the US military said it posed no immediate threat to America or its allies.

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Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the missiles traveled about 350 km, at a maximum altitude of about 100 km, before landing outside Japanese territorial waters.

“A series of missile launches as the invasion of Ukraine takes place is unacceptable,” he told reporters, adding that Tokyo had lodged a protest against North Korea through its embassy. in Beijing.

North Korea’s 16th known weapons test this year came hours after reporting its first outbreak of COVID-19, declaring a “most serious national emergency” and ordering a nationwide lockdown. Read more

The launch was also the first since the inauguration this week of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has signaled a hard line against the North’s weapons development.

Yoon’s national security office released a statement condemning the launch and saying it “deplores the deceitful conduct” of firing ballistic missiles and ignoring the plight of its people amid a COVID outbreak.

But Yoon’s office said it would not tie humanitarian aid to political differences with North Korea, and the new president’s nominee for minister responsible for inter-Korean relations said during his confirmation hearing that he would prepare humanitarian aid for Pyongyang, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medical care. Provisions.

Some analysts have suggested that such humanitarian aid could create an opening to revive stalled diplomacy with North Korea.

However, a White House National Security Council spokesman said the United States currently has no plans to share vaccines with North Korea and that North Korea has repeatedly refused donations. of vaccines from the COVAX Global Vaccine Sharing Project. Read more

The spokesperson said that while Washington continued to support international efforts to provide essential humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable North Koreans, North Korea “continues to exploit its own citizens and divert resources from the country’s population to strengthen its illegal nuclear and ballistic capabilities”. weapons programs.

The official said Pyongyang had created significant obstacles to the delivery of aid by closing its borders and rejecting offers of international aid.

The latest launches come as North Korea is set to resume nuclear bomb testing suspended since 2017. US and South Korean officials have said it could happen as soon as this month. Read more

US President Joe Biden is due to visit South Korea and Japan next week and North Korea will be one of his priorities.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged late last month to accelerate the build-up of its nuclear arsenal amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States. Read more

In its latest weapons test on Saturday, the North used a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a type it has been aggressively developing in recent years. Read more

In a statement, the US military said it was consulting closely with allies and partners about Thursday’s launch. “The launch of the missile highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program,” he added.

The State Department also condemned the launch, while saying it remained committed to a diplomatic approach with North Korea and reiterating a call for Pyongyang to resume dialogue.

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Alison Williams and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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