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North Korea's Kim 'drives' new tank during mock battle

By Hyunsu Yim

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided a military demonstration involving a new battle tank, state media KCNA reported on Thursday, in the latest show of force by the isolated state as South Korea and the United States wrapped up joint drills.

Kim expressed "great satisfaction" that the new type of main battle tank successfully demonstrated its striking power in its first performance display on Wednesday, KCNA said.

The "training match" was designed to inspect the combat capabilities of tank crews and make them familiar with combat action on different tactical missions, it said.

"Swiftly weaving their way through various worst combat circumstances, heavy tanks hit targets at once with powerful strikes and broke through strong defence lines with high manoeuvrability," the report said.

The 105th Tank Division, which was declared the winner of the mock battle, was the unit which occupied the South Korean capital Seoul during the Korean War, KCNA said.

Kim was joined by senior officials including Defence Minister Kang Sun Nam at the event.

In a photograph published by KCNA, the leader of the reclusive state could be seen with his head peaking out of a tank as the state media reported he drove the tank himself.

Meanwhile, other photographs showed Kim sporting a leather jacket and surrounded by troops, and also tanks with the North Korean flag blasting ammunition on a field.

The mock battle comes as joint annual drills involving South Korea and the U.S. were due to wrap up on Thursday. The drills, known as the Freedom Shield exercises, were the first to take place since Pyongyang scrapped a 2018 inter-Korean military pact aimed at de-escalating tensions in November.

As part of the drills, South Korea's army said the combined forces had conducted a joint live fire exercise at a training base in the city of Pocheon in the past week.

The live fire drill featured tanks, armoured cars as well as FA-50 fighter jets, the army said in a statement.

North Korea has long condemned such military drills as rehearsals for war, while Seoul has portrayed the exercises as purely defensive.

Kim's appearance at the demonstration comes after he guided an artillery firing drill by the Korean People's Army, the country's military force, last week.

The drill involved units near the border that are in firing range of "the enemy's capital," KCNA said, referring to Seoul, which has nearly 10 million residents.

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim; Editing by Sandra Maler, Ed Davies and Lincoln Feast.)