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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles while watching the Korean People's Army tank crews' competition at an unknown location, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. In the last few days, North Korea has launched a series of missiles that landed in the North Sea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles while watching the Korean People's Army tank crews' competition at an unknown location, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. In the last few days, North Korea has launched a series of missiles that landed in the North Sea. (Courtesy of KCNA)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea apparently launched a ballistic missile from a submarine Saturday, the South Korean military was quoted as saying.

The report by the South Korean news agency Yonhap came amid fears that the North is planning to stage a fifth nuclear test in a show of power ahead of a rare congress of the ruling party next month.

It also came just more than a week after the North tried but failed to launch what was reported to be a midrange ballistic missile that could possibly reach U.S. military installations in Japan and Guam.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired what it believes was a submarine-launched ballistic missile in the East Sea about 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, according to Yonhap. The military did not immediately say whether the launch was a success but stressed it was keeping close tabs on the North and “maintaining its readiness posture.”

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile flew for only about 20 miles. Yonhap quoted a separate South Korean government source as saying the missile’s engine ignited after it was launched from a 2,000-ton Sinpo-class submarine “but it only traveled a short distance.”

Saturday’s missile launch was sure to heighten tensions with the international community over the North’s nuclear program. The U.S., South Korea and Japan recently vowed a strong response if Pyongyang continued with nuclear or other weapons tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

The sanctions were imposed after the North staged its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch the following month.

If confirmed, the launch would mark a significant advance in North Korea’s weapons programs because of its mobile nature.

North Korea said in May 2015 that it had test-fired a ballistic missile underwater, but many questioned how it was conducted and how developed the North’s submarine-launched ballistic missile capabilities really were.

Email: gamel.kim@stripes.com Twitter: @kimgamel


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