North Korea test-fired seven ballistic missiles yesterday, on US Independence Day celebrations, South Korean officials said, further fueling regional tensions amid its nuclear standoff.
Seoul’s foreign ministry said all seven of the weapons launched into the Sea of Japan were ballistic missiles, which North Korea is banned from firing under UN Security Council resolutions.
It was the first time in three years that the communist state had fired multiple ballistic missiles.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles had a range of between 400km and 500km, but declined to say what type they were.
Yonhap news agency said they were either Scuds, or Rodong-1 missiles whose range of 1,000km to 1,300km had been shortened.
North Korea on Thursday test-fired seven short-range missiles with a range of 120km into the Sea of Japan.
The latest launches were seen as more provocative since the missiles could potentially reach most of South Korea, and possibly parts of Japan.
“The military, on the basis of a strong joint defense alliance with the United States, is fully prepared to fend off any threats or provocations by the North,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
The foreign ministry said the missiles were fired from a site at Kitdaeryong on North Korea’s southeast coast.
It said the “provocative act ... clearly violates” three UN Security Council resolutions, including the latest one from last month that toughened weapons-related sanctions on North Korea in response to its May 25 nuclear test.
“The government expresses deep regret over North Korea’s continued acts to escalate tensions in Northeast Asia in ignorance of the UN Security Council resolutions and urges North Korea to faithfully implement the resolutions,” it said in a statement.
“The Scuds fired today impose a greater security threat to us because of their longer ranges,” one government official was quoted as saying by Yonhap.
“Thursday’s missile tests were apparently made as part of a military drill, but today’s [Saturday] launches, which came on the eve of the US Independence Day, are believed to be for political purposes,” the officials said.
Japan has condemned the launches.
“It is a serious act of provocation against the security of neighboring countries, including our country,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said.
Analysts said North Korea was flexing its military muscle amid the tough international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
Meanwhile, the Taiwanese government yesterday expressed concern and condemned any action that might undermine regional peace.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said any move that jeopardizes regional peace should be restrained, adding that regional disputes should be resolved in a peaceful manner.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CNA