North Korea missile launch prompts Hokkaido shelter alert
Seoul/Tokyo, Apr 13 (EFE).- Pyongyang on Thursday fired an unidentified ballistic missile, according to Seoul and Tokyo, prompting Japanese authorities to alert Hokkaido residents to take shelter amid concerns that it could land on or near the island.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the launch of an intermediate- or longer-range ballistic missile near Pyongyang at 7.23 am (22:23 GMT Wednesday) and that the missile, fired at a lofted angle, flew about 1,000 kilometers before crashing into the water.
“North Korea’s ballistic missile launch is a grave provocative act that not only harms peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula but also in the international community, and a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” the JCS said, according to Yonhap news agency.
The projectile was also picked up by Japanese radar systems after its launch, with Tokyo later confirming that it fell outside its territory and the waters of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada at a press conference said the ministry believes that North Korea launched at least one projectile, possibly an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), but confirmed that it did not land on Japanese soil or in its EEZ.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also confirmed the launch and called a security meeting with several of his ministers.
Hokkaido authorities activated an alert shortly after the launch urging people to take shelter due to the possibility that the projectile could land on or around the island, where more than 5 million people live.
The authorities updated the alert at around 8.20 am local time (23:20 GMT Wednesday), noting that there was no longer a possibility that the missile would fall on the island of Hokkaido or in its vicinity.
The company that operates the railway lines in that prefecture, JR Hokkaido, had suspended all its operations shortly before 8 am local while the Ministry of Transportation alerted ships and planes circulating in the area about the possible impact of the missile.
The Japanese Coast Guard said that it expected the missile to impact the waters around Hokkaido from 8 am, but at 8.19 am said it would have by now crashed into the sea.
It is the 15th weapons test carried out this year by the North Korean regime, several of which were fired in response to the military drills that Seoul and Washington are carrying out in the south of the peninsula.
On Mar. 16, North Korea launched a Hwasong-17 ICBM, the longest potential range in its arsenal, into the Sea of Japan and, like its Hwasong-15 (the second-longest range) which it fired on Feb. 18, it landed in waters southwest of Hokkaido.
In the past month, Pyongyang has responded to the large-scale spring maneuvers in Seoul and Washington – in which Tokyo has also occasionally participated – with various weapons tests, including that of a new underwater nuclear drone.
In turn, the regime displayed its tactical nuclear warheads for the first time, underscoring that it is focused on improving its short-range arsenal for potential use against South Korea or neighboring countries such as Japan, which also host US bases. EFE