North Korea launches two cruise missiles off coast in first tests since major Covid outbreak

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North Korea fired two cruise missiles early on Wednesday, days after the isolated country proclaimed victory in its battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to sources in the South Korean military, the missiles were launched from the west coast town of Onchon.

South Korean and the US military authorities are analysing details of the missiles’ flight, including the range.

These are the first missile tests by North Korea in two months as the country was battling a Covid-19 outbreak.

On 30 July, less than three months after it announced its first domestic Covid-19 outbreak, North Korea reported not a single “fever” case. Fever is the euphemism North Korea has used to describe Covid infections.

Pyongyang’s last weapons test was on 10 July, when it fired multiple rocket launchers.

Its leader Kim Jong-un has also been observed preparing for the country’s possible nuclear test, which would be its first since 2017.

In 2022 alone, North Korea has launched more than 30 ballistic weapons so far, including its first intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.

Wednesday’s tests came just a day after South Korea and the US kicked off their four-day preliminary joint drill on Tuesday.

The four-day drill is in preparation for the long-suspended live field training Ulchi Freedom Shield, scheduled to be held from 22 August to 1 September.

There are concerns that North Korea could raise tensions around the joint military exercises between the US and South Korea.

Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, South Korea’s president Yoon Suk-yeol said that his government has no plans to pursue its own nuclear deterrent despite growing threats from Mr Kim.

Mr Yoon said that South Korea is hoping for dialogue and that his government does not desire political change in the North.

He said that his government wants “meaningful dialogue” with North Korea and added that Seoul is willing to provide corresponding economic rewards at each step of a phased denuclearisation process if the North commits to a genuine “road map” toward fully abandoning its weapons programme.

Earlier efforts by the South to provide aid in the form of food, healthcare, port infrastructure have been rejected by North Korea.

Additional reporting by agencies