North Korean defectors deported back from South Korea in 2019
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North Korea has ramped up its weapons testing this year, provoking the US and South Korea to respond with military drills of their own. The two allies conducted live-fire exercises this week, just a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned that he is ready to mobilise his nuclear forces. Speaking at a Korean War anniversary event, Kim added that his country is “fully ready for any military confrontation” with the US. And while many of Kim’s past warnings have been taken with a pinch of salt, in February, satellite imagery showed a newly built missile base in the country.
A think tank even warned that the missiles located at the base could strike US territory.
The Hoejung-ni missile operating base is located in the north-eastern province of Hwapyong.
It boasts underground bunkers as well as powerful intercontinental missiles.
A report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) explained: “The Hoejung-ni missile operating base will, according to informed sources, likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“Each… shelter measures approximately 35m (114ft) long, has a 25m (82ft) opening at each end, and is covered with soil and rocks with vegetation planted on top.”
Another reason the base raised eyebrows among intelligence officials is because it is located close to the North Korean-Chinese border.
It is believed that the construction of the base started more than 20 years ago, and that it is one of many military facilities not publicly acknowledged by Kim.
The CSIS report continued: “When this occurs (missiles being launched), the unit will represent a vital component of what is presumed to be North Korea’s evolving ballistic missile strategy, expanding existing strategic-level deterrence and strike capabilities.”
In recent months, North Korea has accelerated its weapons testing, causing concern in the US.
Just two weeks ago, North Korea fired two suspected cruise missiles from its western coastal town of Onchon towards the sea.
Last month, the United Nations (UN) warned that North Korea is “paving the way” for more nuclear weapons tests.
It said: “The DPRK continued to develop its capability for the production of fissile material at the Yongbyon site”
UN monitors also warned that Pyongyang had stolen crypto assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, adding: “Other cyber activity focusing on stealing information and more traditional means of obtaining information and materials of value to DPRK’s prohibited programmes, including WMD (weapons of mass destruction), continued.
“DPRK made preparations at its nuclear test site, although it did not test a nuclear device. In the first half of 2022, the country continued the acceleration (which began in September 2021) of its missile programmes.”
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Kim has sought to antagonise the West in recent months by supporting Russia.
President Vladimir Putin launched a violent invasion of Ukraine in February and has faced unprecedented sanctions as a result.
In July, North Korea joined Syria and Russia in recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as independent territories.
It has now been reported that Kim could send North Korean workers to occupied areas in the east of Ukraine.
The country’s ambassador to Moscow met with envoys from the two regions recently where he hinted at cooperation in the “field of labour migration.”
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