North Korea test fires missiles; Seoul slams it as inappropriate

This picture taken on March 20, 2020 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 21 shows an artillery fire competition between large combined units of the Korean People's Army (KPA) on the western front. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020

North Korea test fires missiles; Seoul slams it as inappropriate

  • Pyongyang is under multiple sets of sanctions by the United Nations and the United States over its weapons programs

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea on Saturday fired two presumed short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, South Korea’s military said, as it continues to expand military capabilities amid deadlocked nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration and a crippling global health crisis.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were fired around 6:45 and 6:50 a.m. from an area around the county of Sonchon, western North Korea. They flew 410 kilometers (255 miles) cross-country on an apogee of 50 kilometers (31 miles) before landing in waters off the eastern coast.
South Korea and the US were analyzing the launches. Seoul’s military urged the North to immediately stop its “very inappropriate” military demonstrations when the world is struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said the projectiles didn’t reach Japanese territory or its exclusive economic zone.
The North conducted two previous rounds of similar short-range launches and other military exercises this month after leader Kim Jong Un entered the new year vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” US sanctions and pressure.
While the North is clearly determined to advance its missile capabilities, Japan’s Defense Minister Taro Kono said Pyongyang’s demonstrations could also be aimed at “bracing the regime together” amid the coronavirus crisis.
It wasn’t immediately clear what North Korea tested. Flight data released by the South Korean and Japanese militaries suggest that the North could have tested one of its new mobile, solid-fuel missile systems it first demonstrated last year.
Military analysts say such weapons, which are designed to overwhelm missile defense systems with their maneuverability and low-altitude flights, potentially strengthen the North’s ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including US bases there.
North Korea in recent months has also demonstrated what it described as a “super large” multiple rocket launcher, which experts say was likely tested earlier this month.
North Korea’s state media earlier reported that Kim supervised an artillery firing competition between army units in the country’s west on Friday.
The KCNA said Kim expressed satisfaction over the exercise that was aimed at evaluating combat readiness. The report didn’t mention any direct comments by Kim toward Washington or Seoul.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency also said on Saturday that the North has decided to hold a session of its rubber-stamp parliament on April 10. It wasn’t immediately clear what would be discussed.
Nuclear talks have stalemated since the collapse of the second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in early 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Following the breakdown in talks, the North ended a 17-month pause in ballistic activity and conducted at least 13 rounds of weapons launches last year while pressuring Washington and Seoul for concessions. Those weapons also included a developmental mid-range missile that could be launched from submarines.
Some experts say the lull in North Korean launches between November and March could have been caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which started in mainland China in December.
Although Kim has vowed to build up his nuclear arsenal and achieve a “frontal breakthrough” against sanctions while urging his nation to stay resilient in a struggle for economic “self-reliance,” some experts say North Korea’s self-imposed lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis could potentially hamper his ability to mobilize people for labor.
North Korea has not publicly confirmed a single case of the COVID-19 illness, but state media have described anti-virus efforts as a matter of “national existence.” Experts say an epidemic in North Korea could have dire consequences due to the country’s poor health system and shortage of medical supplies.
The country has banned foreign tourists, shut down nearly all cross-border traffic with China, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.
 


Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

The wreckage of the car where six French aid workers, their local guide and the driver were killed by unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles in an area of southwestern Niger. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2020

Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

  • Attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group of aid workers as they drove through the giraffe reserve
  • France has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert

NIAMEY: French and Nigerien soldiers searched through a giraffe reserve and the surrounding area in Niger on Monday for traces of the gunmen who killed six French aid workers, a French military source said.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor also opened an investigation into the incident, in which attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group as it drove through the reserve located 65 km (40 miles) from the capital Niamey — an area considered safe by the Niger government.
The French aid workers were employed by the charity ACTED. A local driver working for the relief group and a guide were also killed. ACTED called the murders “senseless and cowardly.”
“This heinous crime must not go unpunished, nor will it distract us from our commitment to support the people of Niger,” said ACTED, which has worked to help vulnerable populations in the country since 2010.
No one has claimed responsibility for the assault. But France and other countries have warned people against traveling to parts of Niger where militants including Boko Haram and an affiliate of Daesh operate.
“Military operations are ongoing today,” the military source said.
In the clearest sign yet that France believes a militant group was behind the attack, the office of France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said it was launching an investigation on suspicion of the involvement of a terrorist group.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he shared their families’ grief. “Our determination to combat armed terrorist groups is resolute. The fight continues,” Macron tweeted.
The reserve southeast of Niamey is home to West Africa’s last sizeable population of giraffe in the wild. In the wet season, thick green acacia bushes dot the flat, sandy plains.
It is a popular attraction in Niger, a vast country that borders seven states in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria and Nigeria.
France, a former colonial power in the region, has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert since 2013. The United States also has soldiers based in Niger.
Nonetheless, militant violence has been on the rise.