N. Korea’s Kim guides rocket firing drills

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Monday that leader Kim Jong Un guided the test launches of tactical ballistic rockets aimed at U.S. and South Korean forces, the second such launch drill reported in state media in three days.

The latest launch likely refers to suspected Scud missile launches that Seoul officials say the North fired a day earlier.

South Korean defense officials said the North launched two short-range missiles Sunday into waters off its east coast and that they were suspected to be Scud-type ballistic missiles. South Korea’s military views the launches as provocative as they were made without designating a no-sail zone. The missiles flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles), according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

On Monday, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim guided the drills, which involved precision-guided missiles and shells, and that he expressed satisfaction over the results. It said the launches didn’t cause any impact on international navigation or the environment.

KCNA didn’t say when and where the training occurred. But the rockets the country said it fired were likely the suspected Scud missiles that South Korea says the North launched on Sunday as there were no other reported missile and rockets launches by the North on the day.

It’s Kim’s second reported inspection of firing drills in recent days. State media said Friday that Kim guided test launches of newly developed precision-guided missiles, in a likely reference to three short-range projectiles South Korean officials say the North fired a day earlier.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said Monday that it was difficult to conclude the purpose of Sunday’s launches, though he said the launches Thursday appeared to be part of efforts to develop and upgrade large-caliber multiple rocket launch systems.

North Korea regularly test-fires missiles and artillery, both to refine its weapons and to express its anger over various developments in Seoul and Washington. North Korea has in recent days criticized alleged South Korean artillery firing drills near a disputed maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea that has been the scene of several bloody skirmishes between the rival nations in recent years.

The missile displays also come days before the leader of North Korea’s only major ally, Chinese President Xi Jinping, meets South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Seoul and Beijing have long pressed North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

It’s not possible to tell if this claims about the new missiles is an exaggeration, something North Korea has frequently done in the past when trumpeting its military capability, analysts say.

The impoverished North devotes much of its scarce resources to missile and nuclear programs that threaten South Korea, Japan and tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the region. Outside analysts say North Korea has developed a handful of crude nuclear devices and is working toward building a warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile, although most experts say that goal may take years to achieve.

The Korean Peninsula is still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

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