Pyongyang fires ballistic missiles as Seoul prepares for Korean War anniversary

This picture taken on July 12, 2023, shows the test firing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-18 at an undisclosed location in North Korea. — AFP/File
This picture taken on July 12, 2023, shows the test firing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) “Hwasong-18” at an undisclosed location in North Korea. — AFP/File 

Pyongyang launched two missiles late on Monday prior to anniversary celebrations that will be watched by Chinese dignitaries in the first foreign delegation to visit North Korea since the 2020 pandemic border shutdown

According to reports from South Korean news agency Yonhap and Japanese newspaper Kyodo, the South Korean defence ministry identified the two projectiles as ballistic missiles that travelled roughly 400 kilometres (248 miles) before crashing into the sea.

“Our military detected two ballistic missiles North Korea fired from areas near Pyongyang into the East Sea at 11:55pm on the 24th and at midnight of the 25th,” Yonhap quoted South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying.

The launches, which came as Seoul and Washington increased defence cooperation in the face of escalating tensions with the North, were the most recent in a string of missile tests by Pyongyang in recent weeks.

The event came days after leader Kim Jong Un personally watched the most recent firing of the nation’s newest intercontinental ballistic missile, the solid-fuel Hwasong-18. The isolated state regularly conducts weapons tests.

Relations between the two Koreas are currently at one of their lowest historical points, as diplomacy between Pyongyang and Seoul has stalled and Kim has called for ramping up weapons development, including tactical nukes.

In response, Seoul and Washington have staged joint military exercises with advanced stealth jets and US strategic assets, AFP reported

Monday’s launches also come ahead of celebrations in North Korea this week marking the 70th anniversary of the end of fighting in the Korean War.

A Chinese delegation led by Politburo member Li Hongzhong will travel to the North for the event, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported, in what is the first known visit by a foreign delegation since the start of the pandemic.

North Korea has been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade since early 2020 to protect itself from COVID-19, only resuming some trade with China last year.

An armistice agreement ending Korean War hostilities was signed on July 27, 1953 but the two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice and not a peace treaty.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula also have ratcheted up recently due to the disappearance of a US soldier, Travis King, who was on a tour of the demilitarized zone last week when he ran across the border into North Korea.

The UN Command, a US-led multinational force that oversees the Korean War truce, said Monday it has begun discussions with Pyongyang over the missing American serviceman.

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