S. Korea vigilant against N. Korea’s ICBM, nuke test

SEOUL-- North Korea is highly likely to fire more missiles in the coming weeks as its military prepares to wrap up months of winter training, defense officials and experts here said Thursday.

"Chances are high that North Korea may soon take additional provocative steps," a senior defense ministry official said on background. "A key concern is whether it will test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or conduct a nuclear test."

He stressed that the South's military is closely monitoring the North's activity, saying he remains in standby mode even on weekends these days due to the possibility of an emergency situation.

On Wednesday, the North launched a missile from its east coast, but it is believed to have exploded seconds after takeoff, according to the military authorities of the South and the United States. They have yet to confirm the type of the projectile amid speculation that it's a newly developed one.

It was the communist nation's third known missile test since the inauguration of the Donald Trump administration.

North Korea also fired four ballistic missiles almost simultaneously into the East Sea on March 6, with three of them falling near Japan's waters. It fired a ballistic one on Feb. 12.

Earlier this week, Pyongyang claimed significant headway in its rocket engine system, followed by a news report that the U.S. has detected the move of a missile launcher and the installation of VIP seating in the North's eastern missile site in Wonsan.

"It's probably related to a plan to wrap up the winter military exercise," said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies of Kyungnam University.

Many of the North's soldiers are usually mobilized to lend farmers a hand with the end of their winter training in early April, when the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) holds a session, he pointed out. This year's meeting is slated for April 11.

"Before that, North Korean troops will stage a large-scale exercise to wrap up the winter training at an on-site inspection of leader Kim Jong-un," he said. "It's expected to fire various types of missiles this time, including FROG-7 artillery, KN-02 short-range and Scud missiles."

Military officials also do not rule out the possibility that the North will fire an ICBM or conduct the sixth nuclear test to commemorate the 105th birth anniversary of the North's founder Kim Il-sung on April 15 and the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army on April 25.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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