South Korea: North Korea fires 2 presumed missiles into sea

Associated Press

Seoul, South Korea – North Korea on Saturday fired two presumed short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, South Korea’s military said, as it continues to expand military capabilities amid a standstill in nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were fired from inland in western North Korea and flew cross-country before landing in waters off the country’s eastern coast. The Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t immediately give specific details on how far they flew.

In this Tuesday, March 17, 2020, photo provided on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech during the ground-breaking ceremony of a general hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The North conducted two previous rounds of similar short-range launches and other military exercises this month after leader Kim Jong Un entered the new year vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure.

South Korea’s military alerted the latest launches to reporters shortly after North Korea’s state media reported that Kim supervised an artillery firing competition between army units on the western front on Friday.

The KCNA said Kim expressed satisfaction over the exercise that was aimed at evaluating the combat readiness of its troops, but didn’t mention any direct comments toward Washington or Seoul.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency also said on Saturday that the North has decided to hold a session of its rubber-stamp parliament on April 10. It wasn’t immediately clear what would be discussed.

Nuclear talks have stalemated since the collapse of the second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in early 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

While Kim has declared to build up his nuclear arsenal and achieve a “frontal breakthrough” against sanctions, urging his nation to stay resilient in a struggle for economic “self-reliance,” some experts say North Korea’s self-imposed lockdown and intensified anti-virus efforts amid the coronavirus crisis could potentially hamper his ability to mobilize people for labor.

North Korea has not publicly confirmed a single case of the COVID-19 illness, but state media has described anti-virus efforts as a matter of “national existence.”