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Kim Jong Un oversees artillery drills, state media says

Kim Jong Un has made multiple appearance in the past two weeks at live-fire exercises, according to state media. Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE
Kim Jong Un has made multiple appearance in the past two weeks at live-fire exercises, according to state media. Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

March 12 (UPI) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a live-fire drill on Thursday and urged troops to strengthen the regime's artillery force, according to state media.

Pyongyang's Korean Central Television reported Friday Kim had provided field guidance to an artillery unit but did not identify the location of the drill.

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"Once again leader comrade Kim Jong Un was escorted by Korean People's Army soldiers at the place with strong ocean winds," KCTV said, indicating the site may have been Wonsan or another coastal North Korean city.

The soldiers, seen in North Korean images, were identified as members of the 7th and 9th corps of the Korean People's Army. The 7th corps is stationed in South Hamgyong Province, while the 9th corps is based in North Hamgyong Province.

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Troops wore surgical masks, while Kim appeared again without antiviral gear.

Kim was accompanied by senior North Korean officials, including Kim Su Gil, chief of political affairs, Pak Jong Chon, chief of staff, and Kim Jong Gwan, head of North Korea's defense ministry, according to KCTV.

North Korea has engaged in regular live-fire exercises, and short-range projectile launches since Feb. 28, despite a declaration of national emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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On Friday, KCTV said Kim Jong Un wished the drill on Thursday would "inspire training enthusiasm and victory."

According to an analysis from South Korean news service Newsis, it is likely Kim Jong Un is practicing social distancing for the duration of the COVID-19 epidemic. The North Korean leader may be opting to stay along the country's eastern coast, far from densely populated centers like Pyongyang, as drills continue to take place in the same region.

He could also be making public appearances to remind North Koreans he remains in power despite the health emergency. In January, he had declared a "frontal breakthrough" for the North Korean economy while rejecting talks with Seoul.

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North Korea has claimed "zero" COVID-19 cases in the country.

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