North Korea carries out ‘very important’ test at once-dismantled launch site

US President Donald Trump said in June 2018, after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, that Pyongyang pledged to dismantle its Sohae missile installation, shown in TV above. (AP)
Updated 08 December 2019

North Korea carries out ‘very important’ test at once-dismantled launch site

  • Reported test comes as a year-end deadline North Korea has imposed nears
  • Pyongyang warns it could take a ‘new path’ amid stalled denuclearization talks with the US

SEOUL: North Korea has carried out a “very important” test at its Sohae satellite launch site, state media KCNA reported on Sunday, a rocket testing ground that US officials once said North Korea had promised to close.
The reported test comes as a year-end deadline North Korea has imposed nears, warning it could take a “new path” amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States. The KCNA report called it a “successful test of great significance” but did not specify what was tested.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, which usually issues alerts if a missile is seen launching from North Korea, declined to comment.
Missile experts said it appeared likely the North Koreans had conducted a static test of a rocket engine, rather than a missile launch.
“If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn’t already,” said Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
“This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the New Year.”
Tensions have risen ahead of a year-end deadline set by North Korea, which has called on the United States to change its policy of insisting on Pyongyang’s unilateral denuclearization and demanded relief from punishing sanctions.
On Saturday North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said denuclearization was now off the negotiating table with the United States and lengthy talks with Washington are not needed.
“The results of the recent important test will have an important effect on changing the strategic position of the DPRK once again in the near future,” KCNA reported, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The test is the latest in a string of statements and actions from North Korea designed to underscore the seriousness of its deadline.
North Korea has announced it would convene a rare gathering of top ruling-party officials later this month, and on Wednesday state media showed photos of leader Kim Jong Un taking a second symbolic horse ride on the country’s sacred Mt. Paektu.
Such meetings and propaganda blitzes often come ahead of major announcements from North Korean authorities.
While North Korea has not specified what its “new path” could be, observers have suggested the launch of a space satellite is a possibility, allowing Pyongyang to demonstrate and test its rocket capabilities without resorting to overt military provocation such as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch.
“Such testing is meant to improve military capabilities and to shore up domestic pride and legitimacy,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said of Sunday’s test.
“North Korea is avoiding violations of its long-range missile test moratorium for now, but it is still improving the propulsion and precision of its missiles so that it can claim a credible nuclear deterrent,” he said.
Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean Navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said North Korea may have tested a solid fuel rocket engine, which could allow North Korea to field ICBMs that are easier to hide and faster to deploy.
US President Donald Trump told reporters in June 2018 after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that North Korea had pledged to dismantle one of its missile installations, which US officials later identified as Sohae.
Shortly after that summit, analysts said satellite imagery showed some key facilities at Sohae being dismantled.
However, in the wake of the second summit between Trump and Kim earlier this year, which ended with no agreement, new imagery indicated the North Koreans were rebuilding the site.
At the time Trump said he would be “be very disappointed” if the reports of rebuilding were true.
“Remember this is at the site that was supposedly dismantled as a ‘denuclearization step,’” Narang said. “So this is a first step at ‘denuclearizing.’ Reversible steps are being ... reversed.”
In recent weeks, media reports indicated a high number of US military surveillance flights over the Korean peninsula, suggesting growing expectation of North Korean tests.
Commercial satellite imagery captured on Thursday by Planet Labs showed new activity at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station and the presence of a large shipping container, CNN reported, with analysts suggesting it indicated a test was imminent.


Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

Updated 08 August 2020

Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

  • Remains of four who died in Tuesday’s massive blast in Beirut also to be repatriated

MANILA: The Philippines will soon be sending a chartered flight to Lebanon to bring back Filipinos impacted by a massive explosion at the port of Beirut as early as next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Saturday.

“The DFA is paying P15,000,000 ($305,643) from its funds for a chartered Qatar Air flight to repatriate from Beirut. The Philippine Embassy in Beirut is negotiating it and disbursing the amount. Aug. 16 is [the date set for] arrival,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said, adding that the flight will also bring home the remains of four Filipinos who died in Tuesday’s blast.

Around 400 Filipinos from Lebanon are expected to return following the catastrophic explosion, which decimated the Lebanese capital.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Sarah Lou Arriola said that President Rodrigo Duterte was responding to the “clamor of Filipinos in Lebanon” and that the “chartered flight is the most concrete, immediate and timely assistance” that the DFA could provide given the current situation there.

Reports state that the deadly explosion was caused by a cargo of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, stored at a warehouse in the port of Beirut for years. 

The odorless chemical is commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer but is also used to make powerful bombs.

“With ground operations clearing more area and embassy personnel receiving additional reports, the department is taking in new inputs with regard to the status of the Filipino community in the country,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Data released by the DFA placed the number of Filipinos impacted at 48, with 42 wounded, four dead, and two missing.

“By day’s end yesterday, the number of injured oversees Filipino workers stands at 42, an increase of 11 from the previous report,” Arriola said.

Two of the wounded remained in critical condition and were being monitored at the Rizk Hospital.

“We were also alerted that another Filipino was reported missing, increasing the number to two. The number of Filipino fatalities, meanwhile, remains at four,” she added.

The DFA said that, earlier, it had expected the number of affected Filipinos to increase considering the magnitude of the Beirut destruction.

Even before the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the DFA had begun its repatriation activities from Lebanon to limit the worsening condition of Filipinos in the country due to economic woes. It has repatriated at least 1,508 Filipinos from Lebanon since December 2019.