(LEAD) N. Korean leader calls for bolstering navy’s war readiness during visit to shipyard

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for strengthening the country's navy to step up war preparations and protect maritime sovereignty during a visit to a shipyard for warships, state media said Friday. Kim made the remarks as the North has been dialing up tensions on the Korean Peninsula in the new year -- an election year for South Korea and the United States -- with weapons tests and harshly worded rhetoric. North Korea conducted three rounds of cruise missile launches in a week recently, including test-firings of a new submarine-launched strategic cruise missile, named the "Pulhwasal-3-31." During his visit to the Nampho Dockyard on the country's west coast, Kim stressed that bolstering the country's naval force is the "most important issue" that also calls for the modernization of the North's shipbuilding industry, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. It did not elaborate on when Kim's visit took place. Kim was briefed on ongoing preparations to build warships and ordered officials to " unconditionally" push ahead with a five-year military development plan put forth during a party congress in 2021, according to the KCNA. During the key meeting, Kim had vowed to develop high-tech weapons, including a nuclear-powered submarine, along with a hypersonic warhead, spy satellite and solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles. While the Sinpo South Shipyard, located in the eastern namesake city, is considered the North's main submarine shipyard, construction of a barge for launching submarine-launched ballistic missiles has been observed at Nampho Dockyard. The KCNA's Friday dispatch marked its first coverage of Kim's visit to the Nampho Dockyard although it has reported on Kim's visit to the shipyard in Sinpo. South Korea's unification ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, condemned Kim for mentioning preparations for a war while turning a blind eye to his people's lives. Source: Yonhap News Agency