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North Korea's Kim guides artillery firing drill in range of Seoul

By Hyunsu Yim

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided an artillery firing drill by the Korean People's Army, the country's military force, state media KCNA reported on Friday.

The drill, carried out on Thursday, involved units near the border that are in firing range of "the enemy's capital," KCNA said, referring to the South Korean capital of nearly 10 million residents and added it "fulfilled important military missions for war deterrence".

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said North Korea's military test-fired multiple rocket launcher shells and self-propelled artillery shells toward the Yellow Sea between 11 a.m. (0200 GMT) and 5 p.m.(0800 GMT) on Thursday.

The JCS said it was monitoring the North's military activities as joint drills conducted by South Korean and U.S. militaries are underway. The drills, known as the Freedom Shield exercises, began on Monday with twice the number of troops joining compared to last year.

North Korea has also made "multiple attempts" to jam GPS signals near the border in South Korea since Tuesday, the JCS said in a separate statement, adding no damage was caused but warning of consequences.

In Washington, a State Department spokesperson said the joint U.S. South Korean drills were "routine and defensive in nature" and called on North Korea "to refrain from further provocative, destabilising actions and return to diplomacy." KCNA said Thursday's artillery drill aimed to increase combat readiness and war capability.

Kim urged the military to push forward with preparations so the artillery sub-units could "take the initiative with merciless and rapid strikes at the moment of their entry into an actual war".

"He stressed the need to train all the artillery men of the whole army into experts in artillery engagement ... and set forth important tasks for rounding off the artillery war preparations," the report said, referring to the leader of the reclusive state.

Photographs published by KCNA showed balls of flame from artillery fire and Kim dressed in a black leather jacket and flanked by soldiers watching from a dug out.

Seoul's defence minister, Shin Won-sik, visited the Capital Defense Command on Thursday and ordered a firm response if North Korea made provocations aimed at the capital.

Earlier this week, the North Korean state media said Kim inspected field training of troops at a major military operations base in the western region of the country.

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Barbara Lewis and Diane Craft)