North Korea suspected of conducting artillery fire drills: Seoul

North Korea appears to have conducted artillery firing drills, South Korea has said, days after the United States deployed sophisticated fighter jets to South Korea for joint training.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it detected multiple trajectories presumed to be North Korean artillery on Sunday afternoon.

“Our military spotted flight trajectories that are suspected to be North Korea’s multiple rocket launchers from around 18:21 to 18:37pm today,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message sent to reporters.

“Our military has strengthened surveillance and vigilance, and maintained a thorough readiness posture while keeping close US-South Korea cooperation,” it said, without further details.

South Korea’s presidential office said the suspected launches occurred off North Korea’s west coast. It said National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han reviewed South Korean military readiness and that his office closely monitors possible additional launches by North Korea.

This year, North Korea has carried out an unusually large number of weapons tests, including nuclear-capable missiles that place both the mainland of the US and its allies – including South Korea and Japan – within striking distance.

Washington and Seoul officials have also warned that the isolated regime is preparing to carry out what would be its seventh nuclear test – a move that the US warned would provoke a “swift and forceful” response.

Last month, South Korean Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup said Seoul would “strengthen” its defence capabilities, as well as its security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo, to counter the nuclear threat from Pyongyang.

Bargaining chip

Some experts say North Korea is attempting to perfect its weapons technology and boost its bargaining chip in future negotiations with the US to win sanctions relief or security guarantees.

Last week, six US F-35 aircraft from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska arrived in South Korea for their first temporary deployment in South Korea since late 2017 for joint training with South Korean fighter jets.

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