(Adds U.S. State Department comment, paragraphs 12-13)
By James Pearson
SEOUL, July 9 A former North Korean missile
expert who was placed under sanctions by the United Nations for
his role in the country's nuclear and missile weapons programmes
has died, state media said on Wednesday.
The announcement of Jon Pyong Ho's death came as North Korea
launched short-range missiles into its eastern waters in the
early hours of Wednesday.
The missiles, which an official of the South Korean joint
chiefs of staff said appeared to be ballistic Scud-class, were
launched from a province in western North Korea and flew about
500 km (310 miles) before falling into waters to the northeast.
Jon, a highly decorated general in the Korean People's Army
(KPA) and senior Worker's Party of Korea (WPK) figure, died aged
88 of natural causes, state media said.
"He made a special contribution to turning the KPA into a
powerful elite revolutionary army equipped with modern and
defensive means and converting the DPRK into a satellite
producer, launcher, and a nuclear weapons state," official KCNA
news agency said, using the North's official acronym.
Jon's passing is unlikely to have any impact on the North's
weapons programme because he had been retired from the
frontlines and had passed his duties on to successors. However,
he was still an influential figure.
"He was certainly so powerful that when he left office as
WPK Secretary and Director of Munitions Industries in 2010, Kim
Jong Il essentially split his old position in two," said Michael
Madden, an expert on the North's leadership.
A graduate of Moscow State University and a close adviser to
late leader Kim Jong Il, Jon worked for more than four decades
as a senior figure in the production and development of North
Korean arms before retiring from public life in 2011.
When he was in office he oversaw development of the
isolated, impoverished North's long-range ballistic missile
programmes and was directly involved with its first test of a
nuclear device in 2006.
He helped broker a deal with Pakistan in the 1990s that
provided Pyongyang with critical technology for its uranium
enrichment programme and exported advanced North Korean missile
technology that is still in use by Pakistan.
Wednesday's missile launch was in defiance of a U.N. ban
that prohibits North Korea from using or procuring ballistic
missile technology that could be used in its nuclear or
intercontinental ballistic missile programmes.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was
concerned by reports of the new North Korean missile launches
and that Pyongyang had apparently failed to give prior
notification to merchant ships, fishing vessels and passenger
and cargo aircraft in the area.
"Such provocative actions unilaterally heighten tensions in
the region and they will not provide North Korea with the
prosperity and security it claims to seek," spokeswoman Jan
Psaki told a regular news briefing.
North Korea, which has threatened a fourth nuclear test,
also in violation of U.N. sanctions, has test-fired short-range
missiles and rockets four times in the past two weeks, and has
threatened to continue doing so.
A state funeral in honour of Jon and his legacy in North
Korea's nuclear and missile programmes will be organised by the
country's leader, Kim Jong Un, and held in Pyongyang soon, North
Korean media said.
"Although Jon passed away, the exploits he performed on
behalf of the party, the revolution and the country will shine
on," KCNA said in an obituary.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in Seoul and David
Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Jack Kim, Paul Tait and