North Korea fires three projectiles into sea, South Korea says

North Korea fired three unidentified projectiles into the sea on Monday, the Seoul military said, Pyongyang’s second such weapon test in a week.

All three were fired northeast from the Sondok area in South Hamgyong Province, the Southern Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, without further details.

“The military is monitoring additional launches and maintaining its availability,” he added.

A spokesman for the Japanese Defense Ministry said that North Korea had launched what appeared to be “ballistic missiles”, adding that there had been no indication of anything falling into the territory or the exclusive economic zone of Tokyo.

Analysts say the North has continued to refine its weapons capabilities during its nuclear talks with the United States, which has stalled since the failure of the Hanoi summit between leader Kim Jong Un and the President Donald Trump over a year ago.

Three successful missiles fired from a single carrier-erector launcher (TEL) would be “a new step” for the North’s short-range ballistic missile program, tweeted Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

Vipin Narang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology added: “Kim continues to test, improve and operationalize his strength.”

Following last week’s launch, northern state media said Kim had overseen a long-range artillery exercise, carrying images of several launch rocket systems and several of a larger caliber rocket drawn in a forest.

South Korea said the launch appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles – which the armed North is prohibited from testing under UN Security Council resolutions.

Personal letter

Monday’s launch came days after Kim sent a personal letter to Southern President Moon Jae-in, offering “comfort” to the rapid epidemic of the new coronavirus in the country.

South Korea has one of the largest infection totals in the world outside of China with more than 7,300, while Pyongyang insists there have been no cases.

This message followed an unprecedented statement by Kim’s younger sister Yo Jong when she berated Seoul for condemning last week’s Pyongyang weapons test was “a really crazy act” and “perfectly stupid” .

The North carried out a series of weapons tests late last year, the last in November, which it has often described as several rocket launch systems, although others have called them ballistic missiles.

He also performed static engine tests, most recently in December.

Pyongyang has set a unilateral end-of-2019 deadline for Washington to offer further concessions on easing sanctions, and at a party meeting in late December Kim said the North no longer considers itself bound by its moratoria on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

He also threatened to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon” soon.

Pyongyang is subject to several rounds of sanctions for its weapons programs from the United Nations Security Council, the United States, South Korea and others.

Increased tensions in 2017 were followed by two years of nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington, including three meetings between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, but little tangible progress has been made.