North Korea fires ‘unidentified projectiles’ days after new missile launch

North Korea has test-fired at least one unidentified projectile from a suspected missile base just days after its first launch since 2017.

The projectile was launched from a medium-range ballistic missile base as South Korean, American and Japanese officials meet in Seoul to discuss North Korea amid fears that tensions could escalate again.

South Korea's military said the projectile was fired from Sino-ri in an eastwards direction at 4.30pm local time on Thursday.

It is estimated to have flown about 260 miles.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently published satellite images of Sino-ri, saying it was an operational missile base that houses a regiment-sized unit with medium-range ballistic missiles.

Last week's "strike drill" at which leader leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch of rockets and at least one short-range ballistic missile was "regular and self-defensive," the country's foreign ministry has claimed.

An unnamed ministry spokesperson said in a statement to the state-run KCNA news agency: "The recent drill conducted by our army is nothing more than part of the regular military training, and it has neither targeted anyone nor led to an aggravation of the situation in the region."

Patrick Shanahan, the acting US defence secretary, told a congressional hearing on Wednesday that North Korea launched "rockets and missiles", the first time the Pentagon has detailed what it believes Pyongyang fired.

North Korea has returned to launching rockets and missiles after failed talks with the US which were held as Pyongyang worked to develop a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and travelling as far as the US mainland.

CSIS said Sino-ri is about 130 miles north of the DMZ which divides North and South Korea, and is the oldest of about 20 undeclared missile operating bases.

About 50 miles north-west of the capital Pyongyang, it is said to be the headquarters of the Strategic Rocket Forces Nodong missile brigade.

CSIS wrote in a January report: "The Sino-ri missile operating base and the Nodong missiles deployed at this location fit into North Korea’s presumed nuclear military strategy by providing an operational-level nuclear or conventional first strike capability against targets located both throughout the Korean Peninsula and in most of Japan.

"The base continues to be defended against preemptive attack by nearby anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air positions."

North Korea has never declared the base, and it does not appear to be the subject of denuclearisation negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, CSIS added.

Saturday's drill was the first test of a ballistic missile by North Korea since it launched a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017.

It came in the wake of talks with the United States and South Korea stalling in February following two rounds by Kim and President Donald Trump.

Saturday's drill raised alarms in both countries, which have been seeking to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

North Korea expert Andrei Lankov said this month's tests mark "a period when the North Koreans will slowly but steadily increase tensions in the region".

Pyongyang was likely seeking to put pressure on Washington, he added.

Mr Lankov, a director at the Korea Risk Group, which owns and operates NK News, said: “They want to show the Americans that contrary to their assumptions, time is not necessarily on their side.

“They will try to keep reminding the world, and the White House in particular, that unless some compromise is worked out, and some concessions on sanctions issues are made, they are capable of creating a serious mess in East Asia.”

Seoul has called on its northern neighbour to "stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean Peninsula."

In a second statement carried by KCNA on Wednesday, a spokesman for the North Korean office in charge of military engagement with South Korea lashed out at Seoul over any suggestion that the rocket drills had violated an inter-Korean agreement aimed at reducing military tension.

"The South Korean military should take a close look at the inter Korean military agreement and recall what it has done itself before talking nonsense that it was against the spirit of the agreement," the spokesperson said, according to KCNA.

The second statement also criticised last week's test of a US Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by the US Air Force out of California over the Pacific, saying South Korea was in no position to criticise North Korea.

"The South Korean military has no right to say a word to its fellow countrymen when it acted like a mute who ate honey when the United States fired a Minuteman ICBM which threatens us," the military spokesman said.

According to a subsequent English-language report on KCNA, the spokesman also took aim at Seoul for staging "provocative" combined air drills with the United States and for allowing the stationing of a US THAAD anti-missile system on its territory.

It also appeared to hint at the possibility of more weapons tests, saying: "The south Korean military were astonished by the recent strike drill.

"It might fall into a swoon to see a strike drill involving more powerful cutting-edge weapons."

Trump said on Saturday he was still confident he could make a deal with Kim, and US and South Korean officials have subsequently played down last week's tests.

North Korea's criticism of Seoul has come even as South Korea has said it is working on a plan to send humanitarian food aid to North Korea after the United Nations reported the country had suffered its worst harvest in decades, leaving many there chronically short of food.

The US State Department last week blamed the shortages on the North Korean government.

At their summits, Trump has called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, and Kim has urged the US to lift crippling sanctions.

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