North Korea has fired suspected multiple rocket launchers, according to the South Korean military, amid concerns Pyongyang could conduct its first nuclear test in five years.
In a statement on Sunday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it had detected “flight trajectories” earlier in the day that were suspected to be shots from multiple rocket launchers (MLRs) of North Korea.
“Our military spotted flight trajectories that are suspected to be North Korea’s multiple rocket launchers from around 18:21 to 18:37 p.m. today,” the statement read, with saying how many trajectories were precisely detected in total.
The JCS said the South’s military “has strengthened surveillance and vigilance, and maintained a thorough readiness posture while keeping close US-South Korea cooperation.”
Separately, South Korea’s presidential National Security Office held a meeting over the latest firing by Pyongyang, saying it was “closely monitoring” the situation in case of additional launches by the North.
North Korea, which has been under rounds of crushing sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, has ramped up its missile launches this year, conducting well more than a dozen weapons tests, including of an intercontinental ballistic missile (IBM) at full range for the first time since 2017.
All test-fired missiles are banned under UN Security Council resolutions.
Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a meeting with his senior military officials to discuss national defense policies and a continuing military development program. That followed a series of ballistic missile tests this year. In the meeting, Kim called for “crucial and urgent tasks” to expand military capabilities to implement key defense policies.
Western reports say North Korea has made preparations to detonate its seventh nuclear device at its testing ground in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri. North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017. However, during failed peace talks with the United States, Pyongyang dismantled the facility and has not conducted any other nuclear tests since then. Washington has already warned that such a move would provoke a “swift and forceful” response from the US.
South Korea is pursuing a $2.6-billion artillery interception system similar to Israel's so-called Iron Dome designed to protect it against its peninsular neighbor’s arsenal of long-range guns and rockets.
Former US President Donald Trump attempted to court Pyongyang. But even though he met with Kim three times, he refused to relieve any of the sanctions in return for the several steps taken by Pyongyang toward denuclearization. That hampered further diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington and prompted Kim to announce an end to a moratorium on the country’s missile tests.