Kim watches N Korea military drill alongside masked officers

U.S. & World

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a military drill at undisclosed location in North Korea on Monday, March 2, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised an earlier live-fire rocket artillery exercise to confirm his military’s combat readiness and “further kindle the flames of training revolution,” state media said Tuesday.

The report by the Korean Central News Agency came a day after South Korea’s military detected what appeared to be two short-range ballistic launches of projectiles that landed in the North’s eastern sea.

Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published photos of rockets soaring out of multiple rocket launchers and an island target buried in smoke.

Kim smiled widely while watching from an observation post. He wore a black fur hat and leather coat but was not wearing a face mask, though other military officials had black masks in an apparent reflection of the country’s campaign against the coronavirus.

Analysts have speculated North Korea reduced training and other activities with large troop gatherings to reduce the chance of the virus spreading in its military. North Korea has not revealed if it has any cases of the illness, though state media has hinted at some people being quarantined while showing symptoms.

KCNA said of the drill that North Korean troops “proudly demonstrated” accurate marksmanship with their long-range artillery pieces, but it didn’t further specify the weapons involved.

“(Kim) expressed great satisfaction with the fact that the artillerymen are prepared to make rapid reaction to any circumstances and perfectly carry out their firepower combat duties,” the agency said.

“Saying that the victory of the socialist cause is guaranteed by the powerful military force and a war deterrence, he said that the People’s Army should keep full combat-readiness to protect the sky, land and sea of the country from any encroachment.”

The report did not mention any direct comments by Kim toward the United States or South Korea.

Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the weapons involved would have included a “super large” multiple rocket launcher the North first revealed last year, judging by the flight data announced by Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Since the collapse of a second summit last year between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, North Korea resumed ballistic activity and weapons launches to expand its military capabilities. Kim had entered the new year vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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