Seoul, December 8
North Korea has carried out a “very important” test at its Sohae satellite launch site, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Sunday, a rocket testing ground that US officials once said Pyongyang had promised to close.
The reported test comes as a year-end deadline North Korea has imposed nears, warning it could take a “new path” amid stalled denuclearisation talks with the United States. The KCNA report called it a “successful test of great significance” on Saturday but did not specify what was tested.
South Korea’s defence ministry said Seoul and Washington were cooperating closely in monitoring activities at major North Korean sites, including Tongchang-ri, the area where Sohae is located. Missile experts said it appeared likely the North Koreans had conducted a static test of a rocket engine, rather than a missile launch, which are usually quickly detected by neighbouring South Korea and Japan. “If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn’t already,” said Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
“This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the New Year.” Tensions have risen ahead of a year-end deadline set by North Korea, which has called on the United States to change its policy of insisting on Pyongyang’s unilateral denuclearisation and demanded relief from punishing sanctions.
On Saturday North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said denuclearisation was now off the negotiating table with the US and lengthy talks with Washington were not needed. “The results of the recent important test will have an important effect on changing the strategic position of the DPRK once again in the near future,” KCNA reported, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
North Korea has announced it would convene a rare gathering of top ruling-party officials later this month, and on Wednesday state media showed photos of leader Kim Jong Un taking a second symbolic horse ride on the country’s sacred Mt. Paektu. Such meetings and propaganda blitzes often come ahead of major announcements from North Korean authorities. While North Korea has not specified what its “new path” could be, observers have suggested the launch of a space satellite is a possibility, allowing Pyongyang to demonstrate and test its rocket capabilities without resorting to overt military provocation such as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch. — Reuters
Missing for 50 years, pyongyang urged to release hijack victim
Paju: The son of a hijack victim and his supporters today once more urged North Korea to return his father, five decades after Pyongyang diverted a plane carrying 50 South Koreans on board. Hwang Won was on a domestic flight from Gangneung to Seoul on December 11, 1969, when it was hijacked by a North Korean spy and made to land in Pyongyang. Two months later, 39 passengers were repatriated, but 11 people never returned. Among them was Hwang Won— whose son, who was two years old at that time. He has continued to fight for his release. AFP
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