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Failed North Korean missile test may have fallen near capital Pyongyang, South Korea says

A ballistic missile launched by North Korea on Monday might have had an “abnormal” flight trajectory and could have fallen inland, possibly near the capital of Pyongyang, the South Korean military said.

North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on Monday morning, according to reports from the South Korean, American and Japanese governments.

The missiles, launched at 5:05 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. local time, had two different flight distances, 600 kilometers (373 miles) for the first and 120 kilometers (75 miles) for the second, according to a statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

When asked about the disparate distances, Lee Sung-jun, spokesperson for the JCS, in a briefing said, “There is the possibility that the second launched missile had an abnormal flight in the early stage.”

“If it had exploded during an abnormal flight, there is the possibility that debris fell inland,” Lee said, clarifying that an “explosion” is one of many possibilities. The military is “comprehensively analyzing” various possibilities.

He added that no damage has been confirmed so far.

South Korea said the first missile, with the 600-kilometer (373-mile) flight distance, was a short-range ballistic missile, but Lee would only say the second was “a ballistic missile,” which leaves open the possibility of it being a new weapon.

According to JCS, the two missiles were launched northeastward from the Changyon-gun area of South Hwanghae province, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) southwest of Pyongyang.

If the missile exploded after flying 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeastward from Changyon-gun, the debris could have landed near Pyongyang, based on the distance traveled from the launch site.

The JCS could not confirm whether there was an explosion near the capital, which is North Korea’s largest city and home to more than 3 million people.

Last week, North Korea said it successfully conducted a test to deploy multiple warheads from a single-stage engine for a medium- to long-range ballistic missile, marking an important milestone in upgrading its missile technology.

South Korea later said the North Korean claim was false.

Lee, the JCS spokesperson, said that during a successful test, multiple warheads should separate from a missile during the descending stage of its flight, but North Korea’s missile had exploded in the early stage during launch.

North Korea did not make any statements after Monday morning’s launches, but on Sunday put out a statement on the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) denouncing the recent US-South Korea-Japan military exercises named “Freedom Edge,” calling it another sign of the three partners “reckless and provocative military muscle-flexing.”

The statement said North Korea would “continue to make important efforts to deter the acts of disturbing peace and stability” on the Korean Peninsula.

Technically the two Koreas remain at war – an armistice ended the Korean War that split the peninsula in 1953 but no formal peace treaty was ever signed.

Relations between the two countries thawed somewhat in 2017 and 2018, but the situation in North Korea deteriorated in the following years as leader Kim ramped up weapons testing in defiance of United Nations sanctions and diplomatic talks fell apart.

Meanwhile, both nations are drawing closer to their respective partners – with North Korea recently signing a defense agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korea stepping up cooperation with Japan and the United States.

Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said Monday’s missile tests, which occurred during ongoing meetings of the Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party, likely served two purposes for the Kim regime.

“In both North Korean politics and military policy, the best defense is often a good offense. These missile launches are likely the Kim regime’s way of compensating for recent failed tests, aiming to impress a domestic audience during ruling party meetings,” he said.

“Pyongyang is also determined not to appear weak while South Korea conducts defense exercises with Japan and the United States.”

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