North Korea has said it test fired a new multiple rocket launcher system this week, contradicting claims by the South that it had launched two short-range ballistic missiles.
The system could potentially enhance the North’s ability to strike targets in South Korea and US military bases stationed there.
The launches, which took place on Wednesday from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan, were North Korea’s second weapons test in less than a week.
They have been seen as a move to keep up pressure on Washington and Seoul as the stalemate in negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme continues.
North Korea’s Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong Un supervised the first test firing of the system, which he said could soon serve a “main role” in his military’s land combat operations and create an “inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon”.
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The report didn’t directly mention the United States or South Korea, but experts say the rocket system, along with new short-range missiles the North tested last week, could potentially pose a serious threat to South Korea’s defence.
No specific description was given of how the “large-calibre multiple launch guided rocket system” performed, but said the test confirmed the system’s “combat effectiveness”.
“The North’s repeated missile launches are not helpful to an effort to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and we urge (North Korea) to stop this kind of behaviour,” a South Korean statement said following Wednesday’s launch.
Despite the US wanting North Korea to make firm guarantees to denuclearise, a senior US official says the test launch did not violate Mr Kim’s pledge to US President Donald Trump.
“The firing of these missiles don’t violate the pledge that Mr Kim made to the president about intercontinental-range ballistic missiles,” national security adviser John Bolton told Fox Business News.
“But you have to ask when the real diplomacy is going to begin, when the working-level discussions on denuclearisation will begin,” he said.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s former acting ambassador in Rome who went into hiding in Italy last year is now under protection outside the country, according to South Korea’s spy agency.
Legislator Lee Eun-jae said National Intelligence Service officials told a closed-door briefing that Jo Song Gil has left Italy and is being protected “somewhere”.
Ms Lee said the spy agency apparently meant a third country but did not reveal which one.
South Korea’s military also says it is investigating a North Korean soldier who was found crossing the Korean border through a river on Wednesday night and has expressed a desire to defect to the South.