North Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US VP Harris visit

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A South Korean soldiers walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a ballistic missile towards the sea off its east coast, in Seoul, South Korea, September 25, 2022. (REUTERS)
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South Korea’s military has detected signs that North Korea may be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 September 2022

North Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US VP Harris visit

  • US Vice President Harris is set to visit the region next week and meet with leaders of Japan and South Korea

SEOUL: North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast on Sunday, ahead of planned military drills by South Korean and US forces involving an aircraft carrier and a visit to the region by US Vice President Kamala Harris.
South Korea’s military said it was a single, short-range ballistic missile fired from near the Taechon area of North Pyongyan Province just before 7 a.m. local time and flew about 600 km (373 miles) at an altitude of 60 km and a speed of Mach 5.
“North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile is an act of grave provocation that threatens the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
After the launch, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Kim Seung-kyum and the US Forces Korea Commander Paul LaCamera discussed the situation and reaffirmed their readiness to respond to any threat or provocation from North Korea, it added.
South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss response measures and condemned the launch as an apparent violation of the UN Security Council Resolutions and an unjustifiable act of provocation.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who arrived in Seoul late on Saturday from a trip to Britain, the United States and Canada, was briefed on the launch, the presidential office said.
Japan’s Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan estimated the missile reached maximum altitude at 50 km and may have flown on an irregular trajectory. Hamada said it fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and there were no reports of problems with shipping or air traffic.
Many of the short-range missiles tested by North Korea in recent years have been designed to evade missile defenses by manoeuvring during flight and flying on a lower, “depressed” trajectory, experts have said.
“If you include launches of cruise missiles this is the nineteenth launch, which is an unprecedented pace,” Hamada said.
“North Korea’s action represents a threat to the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community and to do this as the Ukraine invasion unfolds is unforgivable,” he said, adding that Japan had delivered a protest through North Korea’s embassy in Beijing.
The US Indo-pacific Command said it was aware of the launch and consulting closely with allies, in a statement released after the launch, while reaffirming US commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan.
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilising impact of the DPRK’s unlawful Weapons of Mass Destruction and ballistic missile programs.”
JOINT DRILLS
The launch comes after the arrival of the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in South Korea to participate in joint drills with South Korean forces for four days from Sept. 26 to 29, and ahead of a planned visit to Seoul this week by Harris.
It was the first time the North carried out such a launch after firing eight short-range ballistic missiles in one day in early June, which led the United States to call for more sanctions for violating UN Security Council resolutions.
North Korea rejects UN resolutions as an infringement of its sovereign right to self defense and space exploration, and has criticized previous joint drills by the United States and South Korea as proof of their hostile policies.
The drills have also been criticized by Russia and China, which have called on all sides not to take steps that raise tensions in the region, and have called for an easing of sanctions.
After North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests this year, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles for the first time since 2017, the United States and South Korea said they would boost joint drills and military displays of power to deter Pyongyang.
“Defense exercises are not going to prevent North Korean missile tests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an international affairs professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
But US-South Korea security cooperation helps to deter a North Korean attack and counter Pyongyang’s coercion, and the allies should not let provocations stop them from conducting military training and exchanges needed to maintain the alliance, he added.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday that North Korea may also be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), citing the South’s military.


US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

Updated 04 December 2022

US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

  • Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east

KYIV: The head of US intelligence says fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and suggests Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.
Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers could be shielding him from bad news — for Russia — about war developments, and said he “is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia.”
“But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are,” the US director of national intelligence said late Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Looking ahead, Haines said, “honestly we’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict” and her team expects that both sides will look to refit, resupply, and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.
“But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that,” she said. “And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe.”
In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east, near the town of Bakhmut, while shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an 8-month Russian occupation.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at Western efforts to crimp Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Putin’s war machine, saying their $60-per-barrel price cap on imports of Russian oil was insufficient.
“It is not a serious decision to set such a limit for Russian prices, which is quite comfortable for the budget of the terrorist state,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia. He said the $60-per-barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in $100 billion in revenues per year.
“This money will go not only to the war and not only to further sponsorship by Russia of other terrorist regimes and organizations. This money will be used for further destabilization of those countries that are now trying to avoid serious decisions,” Zelensky said.
Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at $60 per barrel. The limit is set to take effect Monday, along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.
Russian authorities have rejected the price cap and threatened Saturday to stop supplying the nations that endorsed it.
In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine’s efforts to battle back Russian forces and cope with fallout from the war, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Saturday visited the operations of a Ukrainian aid group that provides support for internally displaced people in Ukraine, among her other visits with top Ukrainian officials.
Nuland assembled dolls out of yarn in the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag with youngsters from regions including northeastern Kharkiv, southern Kherson, and eastern Donetsk.
“This is psychological support for them at an absolutely crucial time,” Nuland said.
“As President Putin knows best, this war could stop today, if he chose to stop it and withdrew his forces — and then negotiations can begin,” she added.


Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupts, people warned to stay away

Updated 04 December 2022

Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupts, people warned to stay away

  • Semeru volcano on Java island spews a column of ash 1.5km into the air
  • Indonesia has the largest population globally living in close range to a volcano
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Semeru volcano on Java island erupted early on Sunday, spewing a column of ash 1.5km into the air, prompting authorities to warn residents to stay away from the eruption area.
Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency, BNPB, warned residents not to conduct any activities within 5km of the eruption center and to stay 500 meters from riversides due to risks of lava flow.
Japan’s Meteorology Agency said was monitoring for the possibility of a tsunami there after the eruption, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The volcano began erupting at 2:46 a.m. (1946 GMT on Saturday), BNPB said in a statement. Videos posted on social media showed grey ash clouds in nearby areas.
BNPB did not immediately respond to Japan’s warning of tsunami risk.
Indonesian authorities have distributed masks to local residents, BNPB said in a statement, adding that volcanic activity remained at level III, below the highest level of IV.
With 142 volcanoes, Indonesia has the largest population globally living in close range to a volcano, including 8.6 million within 10km.

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

Updated 04 December 2022

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

  • FOI request shows 20 percent of 2022 intake ‘disappeared’ while in Kent County Council care

LONDON: Up to 20 percent of Albanian child migrants relocated to an English council in 2022 have been classified as disappeared after going missing, the BBC reported.

Kent County Council admitted 197 unaccompanied Albanian child migrants up to Oct. 31, but figures show that 39 have gone missing.

Officials said that the council is working closely with the UK Home Office to protect and safeguard vulnerable migrant children.

It comes as figures revealed that almost 12,000 Albanians crossed into the UK this year.

The number is an almost 4,000 percent increase on last year’s figure.

Ecpat UK, a campaign group that aims to protect vulnerable children, described the figures obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request as “concerning.”

Head of policy, advocacy and research Laura Duran said that the 20 percent figure represented a “really high” number of missing children.

“We’re really concerned they are at risk of exploitation or have effectively been trafficked,” she said.

“They could be facing labor exploitation in different industries such as construction or car washes. They could be criminally exploited in drug distribution or in cannabis farms, or they could be sexually exploited.”

In a statement, Kent County Council said: “While all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are vulnerable to exploitation, research and experience evidences that some nationalities are particularly vulnerable and can go missing from local authority care very quickly.

“Kent County Council has used both established safeguarding protocols, including the National Referral Mechanism, and initiated multi-agency strategies to minimize the risks for these children as much as possible.

“The council continues to take a proactive role in safeguarding all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in its care.”


Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Updated 03 December 2022

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

  • The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday
  • The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities
KYIV: Ukraine has detained eight people over the theft from a wall in the Kyiv suburbs of a mural painted by elusive British street artist Banksy, the authorities said.
The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday, they said.
“A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural. They cut out the work from the wall of a house destroyed by the Russians,” Kyiv governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a post on Telegram late Friday.
He attached the image of a gaping hole in the wall where the image once stood.
“Several people were detained on the spot,” he said. “The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities.”
Other works in the area thought also to be the work of Banksy are under police protection, he said.
Kyiv police chief Andriy Nebitov said “eight people had been identified” as possibly involved, and a preliminary inquiry had been opened into the matter.
“All were aged between 27 and 60 years old. They are residents of Kyiv and Cherkasy” some 200 km (120 miles) southeast of the capital, he said.
Last month, Banksy posted an image of the stencil of a gymnast performing a handstand on the wall of a wrecked building in Borodyanka, another suburb of the capital.
He then posted a video of several more of his artworks, including the person in a gas mask holding the fire extinguisher.
Others included the portraits of a bearded man scrubbing up in a bathtub, and a young boy in a karate outfit slamming his adult opponent to the ground.
Together with towns such as Bucha and Irpin, Borodyanka and Gostomel were severely hit by Russian bombardment after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Updated 03 December 2022

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

  • Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine
  • The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal

Tallinn, Estonia: Estonia has agreed to buy six HIMARS rocket systems from the United States worth over $200 million, the state defense investment agency said on Saturday.
It is the largest arms purchase in the country’s history.
Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as has its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania.
The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal, as the pro-Western country fights back against Russian troops.
Magnus-Valdemar Saar, director general of the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI), signed a contract on Friday with the United States’ Defense Security Cooperation Agency to boost the country’s indirect fire capability, the ECDI said in a statement.
Estonia will also “procure ammunition, communications solutions, as well as training, logistics, and life-cycle solutions,” said armament category manager Ramil Lipp.
The ECDI did not provide details on how many rockets were ordered but said the purchase included those which can strike targets at a distance of 300 kilometers (186 miles), and rockets of shorter range.
The first deliveries will arrive in 2024.
Lithuania last month said it would buy eight HIMARS rocket systems from the United States for $495 million.