Missile alert as North Korea holidays

North Korea’s neighbours were monitoring missile movements in the rogue state as Pyonyang began celebrating a series of April holidays today.

Missile alert as North Korea holidays

North Korea’s neighbours were monitoring missile movements in the rogue state as Pyonyang began celebrating a series of April holidays today.

Bracing for what South Korea’s foreign minister warned could be a test-fire of a medium-range missile, Seoul deployed three naval destroyers, an early warning surveillance aircraft and a land-based radar system.

North Korea is believed to be readying a missile dubbed the “Musudan”, named after the village where a north-eastern launch pad is based. The missile has a range of 2,180 miles, and is designed to reach US military installments in Guam and Japan, experts say.

Pyongyang has not announced plans to fire a missile, but has delivered increasingly belligerent rhetoric in recent weeks in anger over joint US-South Korean military exercises being conducted in the South through the end of April.

This week, it warned that nuclear war was imminent and urged foreign tourists in South Korea to take cover.

The threats are largely seen as rhetoric and an attempt by North Korea to pressure Washington and Seoul to change their policies towards Pyongyang, as well as to boost the military credentials of their young leader.

North Korea does not have diplomatic relations with the US and South Korea, its enemies during the Korean War of the 1950s, and has pushed for a peace treaty to replace a 60-year-old armistice.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Pyongyang, there was no sense of panic and the focus was on celebrating milestone anniversaries that highlight the Kim family’s hold on power.

After marking late leader Kim Jong Il’s appointment to a top government post , North Koreans were putting on their finest clothing to celebrate his son Kim Jong Un’s ascension to first secretary of the Workers’ Party a year ago today. The post is one of a slew of top titles he claimed in the months following his father’s December 2011 death.

A flower show, art performances and public dance parties are scheduled over the next few days in the lead-up to the nations’ biggest holiday, the April 15 birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader.

No military parade or mass events were expected over the coming week, but North Korea historically uses major holidays to show off its military power, and analysts say Pyongyang could well mark the occasion with a provocative missile launch in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions barring the North from nuclear and missile activity.

Kim Un Chol, the 40-year-old head of a political unit at Pyongyang’s tobacco factory, said he had been discharged from the military but was willing to re-enlist if war broke out.

“The people of Pyongyang are confident. They know we can win any war,” he said. “We now have nuclear weapons. So you won’t see any worry on people’s faces, even if the situation is tense.”

Kim Jong Il elevated the military’s role during his 17-year rule under a policy of “military first” and the government devotes a significant chunk of its annual budget to defence.

Human rights groups say the massive spending on the military and on development of missile and nuclear technology comes at the expense of most of its 24 million people. Two-thirds face chronic food shortages, according to the World Food Programme.

North Koreans are taught from childhood to hate the US and to gird against an invasion by “imperialists” intent on taking over the entire Korean Peninsula.

Last year, celebrations marking the centennial of the birth of Kim Il Sung included parades of tanks, missiles and soldiers, as well as the failed launch of a satellite-carrying rocket widely believed by the US and its allies to be a test of ballistic missile technology.

A subsequent test in December was successful, and that was followed by the country’s third underground nuclear test on February 12, possibly taking the regime closer to mastering the technology for mounting an atomic weapon on a missile.

Last week, Kim Jong Un enshrined the pursuit of nuclear weapons – which the North characterises as a defence against the US – as a national goal, along with improving the economy. North Korea also declared it would restart a mothballed nuclear complex.

The resulting UN sanctions and this spring’s annual US-South Korean military drills, which Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for invasion, have been met with a string of threats from the North. Washington denies it has any plans to invade, and calls the exercises routine defensive drills.

South Korean Defence Ministry officials have said North Korea could launch the “Musudan” missile at any time. Japan has deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors in key locations around Tokyo while the South Korean and US militaries raised their level of surveillance.

North Koreans told foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that they will not be able to guarantee their safety and later warned that a nuclear war was imminent.

However, there has been no sign of diplomats leaving. The European Union said there was no need for member states to evacuate or relocate their diplomatic missions, but it called on North Korea to “refrain from further provocative declarations or action.”

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