SEOUL: North Korea confirmed on Saturday it test-launched ballistic missiles from a train in what was seen as an apparent retaliation against fresh sanctions imposed by the United States (US) following Seoul’s recent series of weapons tests.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the drill was aimed at “checking and judging the proficiency in the action procedures” of the missile, adding the two guided missiles hit a set target in the East Sea.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) travelled about 430 km (267 miles) to a maximum altitude of 36 km (22 miles) after being launched eastward on the northwest coast of North Korea.
The country tested the rail-based system for the first time last September, saying it was designed as a potential counter-strike to any threatening forces.
Since New Year’s Day, North Korea has launched three ballistic missiles in an unusually fast sequence of weapons tests. The previous two launches involved what state media called “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speeds and manoeuvring after launch.
North Korea has defended the missile tests as its sovereign right to self-defence and accused the United States of intentionally escalating the situation with new sanctions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not attend the drill. KCNA said the military leadership had ordered the test “at short notice” and the system precisely struck the target set in the east coast with “two tactical guided missiles.”
The system “demonstrated high manoeuvrability and rate of hits,” KCNA said, adding its success led to discussions to “set up proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country.”
The test came hours after Pyongyang’s foreign ministry issued a statement berating the US for imposing new sanctions over the North’s previous tests and warned of stronger and more explicit action if Washington maintains its “confrontational stance”.
US President Joe Biden’s administration imposed its first sanctions against Pyongyang on Wednesday, and called on the UN Security Council to blacklist several North Korean individuals and entities.
North Korea has been steadily developing its weapons systems, raising the stakes for stalled talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
South Korean Chung Eui-yong and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the latest launch during their phone call on Saturday and coordinated responses to the North’s recent missile tests, the State Department said.
Both sides highlighted the importance of maintaining firm combined readiness posture and urged Pyongyang to return to a negotiating table, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.