Sirens blare as Japan holds first civilian missile evacuation drill, fearing North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA in an undated photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Oga, Japan Mar 17, 2017, 11.35 AM (IST)

Sirens blared and loudspeakers broadcast warnings in Japan's first civilian missile evacuation drill on Friday, conducted in a fishing town by officials wary about the threat of North Korean missiles.

The exercise comes more than a week after North Korea launched four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's northwest coast, with one rocket landing about 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the town of Oga.

Friday's drill played out a scenario in which North Korea had fired a ballistic missile on the Japanese islands.

"The missile is seen to have landed within a 20-kilometre (12-mile) boundary west of the Oga peninsula," a speaker blared during the evacuation. "The government is currently examining the damage."

Residents of the largely rural peninsula jutting into the ocean about 450 kilometres (280 miles) north of the capital, Tokyo, made their way to a designated evacuation centre equipped with emergency kits and protective gear.

Schoolchildren in another part of town crouched down to the ground before hurrying inside a gymnasium.

"I've seen missiles flying between foreign countries on television, but I never imagined this would happen to us," said Hideo Motokawa, a 73-year-old who participated in the drill.

Officials said the exercise was prompted by growing concern about the regional security situation. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Friday the missile drill was worthwhile, to help educate the public.

"Anything can happen these days, and it's even more true when we cannot anticipate the behaviour of our neighbouring countries," said Osamu Saito, a security supervisor in the prefecture of Akita where Oga is located.

Some Oga residents worried about how they would react in a real attack. "It's a scary thing," said participant Emiko Shinzoya, 73. "If it did actually happen, I don't think we can do what we practiced today. We'll just be panicked."

 

US condemns North Korea, calls for "new approach"

North Korea is also developing nuclear-tipped missiles, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions, and conducting nuclear tests in what US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described earlier this week during a visit to Japan as an "ever-escalating threat". 

Tillerson began his first Asian visit as secretary of state, focusing on finding a "new approach" on North Korea after what he described as two decades of failed efforts to denuclearise the insular nation.

"Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table," Tillerson told a news conference today in Seoul.

He said any North Korean actions that threatened the South would be met with "an appropriate response".

"If they elevate the threat of their weapons programme to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table," Tillerson said when asked about military action.

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(Compiled from Reuters)