N.Korea Test-Fires Short-Range Missile

      December 20, 2011 11:27

      North Korea test-fired a short-range missile into the East Sea on Monday, about three hours and 30 minutes before the official announcement of Kim Jong-il's death, which was belatedly reported after he died of a heart attack on Saturday morning.

      A government source said, "At around 8:30 a.m., North Korea test-fired two missiles presumed to be KN-02 surface-to-surface missiles with a maximum range of 120 km off the coast of South Hamgyong Province."

      The source added, "There were signs pointing to an impending missile launch starting from about a week ago, and we were monitoring the developments using KH-12 surveillance satellites, so the move appears unrelated to the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il."

      Meanwhile, a U.S. military reconnaissance aircraft stationed at a U.S. airbase in Japan apparently flew on a mission around North Korea before the test launch of the missile, it was revealed belatedly.

      Japan's Kyodo News reported that the U.S. RC-135S reconnaissance aircraft dubbed "Cobra ball" took off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa at around 5:45 a.m. on Monday and returned at around 4 p.m.

      Government sources said the plane does not appear to have embarked on its mission following the news of Kim's death, but was aimed at tracking the trajectory of the KN-02 missile. It also flew on missions around the peninsula when Pyongyang test-fired its Taepodong-2, Rodong, Scud and KN-02 ballistic missiles.

      "The latest test launch appears to have been aimed at testing the capability and range of existing missiles," said a government source.

      The North has been conducting several test launches of the KN-02 in Wonsan and Hungnam on its east coast over the past several years in order to improve the capability of the missile, which is capable of striking U.S. military bases in Pyeongtaek and Osan, south of Seoul. It can be mounted on launch vehicles to increase its mobility.

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