Monday 16 July 2018

North Korea test missile accidentally hit one of its own cities

Attendees gesture at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s new year address in Pyongyang yesterday. Photo: Kim Won-Jin/AFP
Attendees gesture at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s new year address in Pyongyang yesterday. Photo: Kim Won-Jin/AFP

Nicola Smith Seoul

North Korea accidentally misfired a test ballistic missile into one of its own cities in April last year, destroying an industrial complex, it has been reported.

Citing a US government source, 'The Diplomat' magazine reported that the intermediate-range Hwasong-12 crashed just one minute after launch on April 28, plummeting into industrial or agricultural buildings in the city of Tokchon, around two hours' drive from the capital, Pyongyang.

The missile's failure was widely reported at the time but it was not previously known that it had crashed into a populated area after flying 24 miles from its launchpad near the Pukchang Airfield in South Pyongan province.

It came as US President Donald Trump attempted to take credit for the possible reopening of talks between North and South Korea.

Structural damage from a suspected large explosion was detected by 'The Diplomat' using publicly available satellite images, but it was unable to determine if there had been any casualties.

The unintended strike on the compound has once again raised the spectre of an accidental military escalation or even the launch of a nuclear war if an errant missile were to hit Japan.

Even with a dummy payload, missiles like the Hwasong-12, which use highly volatile liquid fuel, could cause considerable damage to urban areas in a crash, potentially resembling an attack and sparking a serious crisis.

At the time of the failed launch, tensions were high on the Korean Peninsula and Mr Trump had claimed he was "sending an armada" to the region.

North Korea considerably stepped up its nuclear and weapons programme in 2017, prompting multiple commercial airlines to change their flight paths as a precaution.

The Hwasong-12, which was eventually successfully tested in May, was later revealed to be the fundamental building block for the Hwasong-14/KN20, an intercontinental ballistic missile which Pyongyang boasted could reach the US mainland.

However, analysts now fear a more immediate risk of a North Korean nuclear meltdown, according to a recent article published on 38North, a project of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in the US. Doubts about the kingdom's nuclear safety standards re-emerged in December after a video was discovered of leader Kim Jong-un smoking a cigarette next to a missile.

"Kim's recklessness is certainly notable, and it hints at an under-emphasised and potentially devastating possibility: the threat of a nuclear accident in North Korea," said the 38North article.

Irish Independent

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