North Korea tried unsuccessfully to launch an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Thursday, the second failed test of the weapon in less than a month in the run-up to a key political event next week.
An official from South Korea's Ministry of Defense told Reuters the attempted launch occurred at around 6:40am local time on Wednesday near the eastern coastal city of Wonsan. The Musudan missile, which is supposed to have a range of more than 1,800 miles, reportedly crashed within seconds.
The Defense Ministry official, who declined to be identified by name, said South Korean and US officials were still analyzing the cause of the missile crash. The official declined to comment on why news of the launch wasn't revealed until several hours after it took place. South Korean news agency Yonhap said Seoul's military radar did not detect the missile because it did not fly high enough, and that it was spotted by a US satellite.
A similar missile launched on April 15, the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's grandfather Kim Il-sung, exploded after flying about 19 miles in what the US Defense Department called a "fiery, catastrophic" failure. According to South Korea, the Musudan missile has never been successfully flight-tested.
Some experts predicted that North Korea would wait until it figured out what went wrong in the previous failed launch before attempting another, and there were suggestions that Thursday's repeat test was rushed ahead of a congress by the ruling Workers' Party that is scheduled to begin on May 6. Such a gathering hasn't occurred since 1980, and Pyongyang has been conducting a flurry of missile launches and tests of military technology in the weeks leading up to event.
'They are in a rush to show anything that is successful, to meet the schedule of a political event, the party congress.'
"They are in a rush to show anything that is successful, to meet the schedule of a political event, the party congress," said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum and a policy adviser to the South Korean navy.
"They need to succeed but they keep failing. They didn't have enough time to fix or technically modify the system, but just shot them because they were in hurry," he said.
South Korean officials and independent experts have said the North is also ready to conduct its fifth nuclear test at any time ahead of the Workers' Party congress. The event is expected to last four or five days, and will be closely watched for how the country will present its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"Signs for an imminent fifth nuclear test are being detected ahead of North Korea's seventh Party Congress," President Park Geun-hye said at a national security meeting on Thursday.
Kim, who is believed to be 33 and was not alive during the last party congress, is expected to use the gathering to formally adopt his policy, known as "byongjin," to push simultaneously for economic development and nuclear weapons capability.
North Korea's missile tests are in defiance of United Nations Security Council sanctions against the country, which were strengthened following a January nuclear test and a space rocket launch the following month.
On Saturday, North Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which travelled about 18 miles off its east coast.
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