Two of Kim Jong-un’s top weapons chiefs have not been seen in public in weeks raising fears North Korea is preparing for another missile test.
Lieutenant General Kim Rak Gyom, who is in charge of the country’s nuclear programme, and Ri Man Gon, Kim’s chief missile engineer, were both notably absent at two major public celebrations in the last week.
The men are unlikely to have been dismissed, having been praised over the progress of the country’s weapon programme, leading to speculation in the South Korean media that they are preparing another test, according to Daily Mail.
North Korea was thought to be preparing a missile launch for October 10, the anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea and to coincide with Columbus Day in the US.
While no test materialised on that occasion, it is now thought the hermit state could be preparing another for the 19th Party Congress in China on October 18.
The date is the most important political event to take place in China in years, and will likely be used by leader Xi Jingping to indicate who will take over from him when he stands down at the end of his second term in five years.
While North Korea and China were firm allies, a series of recent sanctions and statements from Beijing urging Kim to end his missile launches have changed that.
Earlier this year the North issued a rare rebuke to China, accusing it of forgetting history and siding with American “imperialists”.
Rak Gyom, who is almost always at Kim’s side during important public occasions, was missing during a major rally in Pyongyang on Saturday, according to the North Korea Times.
He was also absent for the anniversary of the ruling party’s founding on Tuesday. Man Gon was also missing during both events.
A 2.9 MAGNITUDE earthquake has been recorded near Kim Jong-un’s nuclear test site.
It comes after a 6.1 magnitude quake last month, which Pyongyang claims was the result of a hydrogen bomb test.
Today’s quake was 23km north east of Sungjibaegam, towards the border with China, which has been used by the secret state to carry out nuclear drills.
A statement on the US Geological Survey website reads: “This event occurred in the area of the previous North Korean nuclear tests.
“The event has earthquake-like characteristics, however, we cannot conclusively confirm at this time the nature (natural or human-made) of the event.”
A 3.4 magnitude quake last month near the same location sparked fears there could have been another nuclear test.
This comes after two key officials involved in North Korea’s nuclear and missile program were reportedly nowhere to be seen during public events this week, fuelling speculation that another missile launch or nuke test could be imminent, Fox News reports.
Ri Man-gon, supervisor of the nuclear and missile development department, and Kim Rak-gyom, the head of the strategic rocket forces, were noticeably missing at a Saturday mass rally in Pyongyang and a Tuesday celebration for the anniversary of the Worker’s Party of Korea, according to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.
A government-funded organisation staff member told the publication there was “little chance” the top officials were removed from their positions because they were “praised for [recent] major achievements.”
“It’s highly likely that they were absent because they’d been given an important assignment,” the employee said.
The discovery was based on recently released photos of celebrations and rallies on Saturday and Tuesday. Ri and Kim Rak-gyom have been present at previous public events.
Officials have warned that North Korea could use special holidays to launch a new missile. Monday marked the anniversary of the country’s first nuclear bomb test carried out 11 years ago. North Korean citizens also continued to celebrate the Worker’s Party anniversary throughout the week.
The hermit kingdom has carried out its previous nuclear tests during Memorial Day Weekend, Lunar New Year celebrations in China and Kim Jong-un’s birthday.
Pyongyang carried out its last missile launch in September. That missile flew over Japan before splashing into the Pacific Ocean. The missile reached a height of 480 miles and flew 2300 miles out, putting Guam in range for a possible strike that Kim Jong-un has threatened in recent months.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho continued his scathing attack on Wednesday after President Trump’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly, saying the US president “lit the wick of war” with his words.
“We need to settle the final score, only with a hail of fire, not words,” he told Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.