A powerful intermediate-range missile, suspected to be North Korean, crashed moments after lift off, South Korea’s Defence Ministry said, in what would be the second such embarrassing failure in recent weeks.
The report of the North Korean launch failure is particularly humiliating as it comes ahead of a major North Korean ruling party meeting next week at which leader Kim Jong Un is believed to want to place his stamp more forcefully on a government he inherited after his dictator father’s death in late 2011.
The launch yesterday was likely the second attempted test of a Musudan, a new intermediate-range missile that could one day be capable of reaching far-off US military bases in Asia and the Pacific.
Fired from a North Korean northeastern coastal town, the projectile crashed a few seconds after lift off, a South Korean Defence Ministry official said. It wasn’t immediately known whether it crashed on land or into the sea.
South Korea’s foreign ministry called the launch a provocation and said it will try to increase international pressure on North Korea.
The failed launch comes amid North Korean anger over annual South Korean-US military drills that it calls a rehearsal for an invasion. The North has fired many missiles and artillery shells into the sea in recent months in an apparent protest against the drills, which end on Saturday.
Earlier this week, South Korean media reported that North Korea had placed a Musudan missile on standby for an impending launch. The reports said the missile was one of two Musudan missiles North Korea had earlier deployed in the northeast.
South Korean and US officials said there was a North Korean missile launch on 15 April, the birthday of the North’s late founder, but they have not officially confirmed it was a Musudan. US officials said that launch ended in failure.
Musudan missiles have a potential range of about 3,500 kilometres (2,180 miles), which would put US military bases in Guam within their striking distance. North Korea is also pushing to develop a nuclear-armed long-range missile capable of reaching the US mainland, but South Korea believes it does not yet possess such a missile.
Before this month’s suspected launches, North Korea had never flight-tested a Musudan missile, though one was displayed during a military parade in 2010 in Pyongyang.
There is speculation in South Korea that North Korea will soon conduct a fifth nuclear test. The North carried out a fourth atomic test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February, earning worldwide condemnation and tougher UN sanctions.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said yesterday that there were unspecified signs that a fifth test was “imminent.” She warned another nuclear test would result in North Korea suffering harsher sanctions.
The ruling Workers’ Party, led by Kim, will open its 7th congress in Pyongyang on 6 May, the official Korean Central News Agency has reported.
It will be the first time the congress will be held since 1980, when Kim’s late father Kim Jong Il was awarded a slew of top jobs in a confirmation that he was in line to succeed his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
Since taking power in late 2011, Kim Jong Un has been struggling to revive his country’s troubled economy.