North Korea has fired what it claims is a “space launcher”, the South Korean military said on Wednesday, confusing Seoul as the city briefly issued an evacuation warning in error.
North Korea had confirmed on Tuesday that it planned to launch what it called “the No. 1 military reconnaissance satellite” before June 11, having already informed Japan of its plans a day earlier.
Pyongyang fired “what it says was a space launcher” south, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said, without giving further details.
Shortly after, a text alert read, “Citizens, please prepare to evacuate and allow children and the elderly to evacuate first” as an air raid siren sounded in central Seoul.
Minutes later, the Seoul Interior Ministry said the alert had been “incorrectly issued”.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectile flew over the Yellow Sea and did not hit the Seoul metropolitan area, Yonhap reported.
North Korea said on Tuesday that its new spy satellite would be “indispensable in tracking, monitoring…and dealing in advance in real time with dangerous military acts by the United States and its vassal forces.”
Criticizing joint US-South Korean military exercises, including ongoing large-scale live-fire drills, a senior North Korean military official said Pyongyang felt “the need to expand reconnaissance and information capabilities and improve various defensive and offensive weapons,” state media reported.
Pyongyang, which does not usually provide advance warning of missile launches, has been known to notify international bodies of plans to launch supposedly peaceful satellites.
He announced in Japan on Monday that he would launch a rocket between May 31 and June 11.
Tokyo and Seoul have strongly criticized the proposed launch, which they say would violate UN sanctions, which bar Pyongyang from testing using ballistic missile technology.
Because long-range rockets and space launchers share the same technology, analysts say developing the capability to put a satellite into orbit would provide Pyongyang with cover to test banned intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
In 2012 and 2016, Pyongyang tested ballistic missiles it called satellite launches. The two flew over the Okinawa region in southern Japan.
Japan briefly activated its missile warning system for the Okinawa region on Wednesday morning, lifting it after about 30 minutes.
– ‘Price and pain’ –
Since the collapse of diplomacy in 2019, North Korea has doubled down on its military development, carrying out a series of tests of banned weapons, including testing several ICBMs.
Last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared his country an “irreversible” nuclear power and called for an “exponential” increase in the production of weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons.
This month, Kim inspected the country’s first military spy satellite as it prepared to be launched, and gave the green light to its “future plan of action”.
In 2021, Kim had identified the development of such satellites as a key defense project for the North Korean military.
Earlier this week, South Korea’s foreign ministry condemned the launch plan, saying “the so-called ‘satellite launch’ is a serious violation of UN Security Council resolutions banning all launches. using ballistic missile technology”.
“If North Korea finally goes ahead with the launch, it will have to bear the price and the pain it deserves.”