SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea fired several suspected cruise missiles off its east coast on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, the latest in a slew of weapons launches by the North despite worries about a possible coronavirus outbreak in the country.
South Koreaâ€™s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the projectiles – presumed to be cruise missiles – were fired from the Northâ€™s eastern Kangwon province on Tuesday morning before flying toward its eastern sea.
It said South Koreaâ€™s military was monitoring possible additional launches by North Korea. It gave no further details, such as exactly how many projectile were launched and what type of projectiles they were.
The launches came on the eve of the 108th birthday of North Korea’s late founder, Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. They also came a day ahead of South Korean parliamentary elections.
In recent weeks, North Korea has carried out a series of short-range missile and other weapons tests amid stalled nuclear talks with the United States.
Most of the weapons tested were ballistic missiles or long-range artillery shells, and itâ€™s unusual for North Korea to launch a cruise missile.
All the tested weapons were still short-range and didnâ€™t pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland. A test of a missile capable of reaching the U.S. homeland would end North Koreaâ€™s self-imposed moratorium on major weapons tests and likely completely derail nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
Some experts say North Korea likely used the latest weapons launches to bolster its striking capability against South Korea, which has been introducing U.S.-made stealth F-35 jets and other sophisticated conventional weapons systems in recent years. Others say the latest weapons tests were also aimed at shoring up internal unity in the face of U.S.-led sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
North Korea has repeatedly said there has been no coronavirus outbreak on its territory. But many foreign experts are skeptical of that claim and have warned that a coronavirus outbreak in the North could become a humanitarian disaster because of the country’s chronic lack of medical supplies and fragile health care infrastructure.