North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles into the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula this week, a report said yesterday.
The hermit state lobbed the missiles into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) on Wednesday, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun quoted anonymous Japanese government sources as saying.
Japanese Minister of Defense Yasuo Ichikawa initially said he was “aware” the missile tests had taken place, leaving his bureaucrats scrambling when he later said only that he had intended to convey he was aware of reports of the test.
The ministry said it was analyzing intelligence and had put defense bodies on alert against provocative acts from the unpredictable regime, the Sankei Shimbun reported.
In Seoul, the South Korean defense ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff declined to confirm the report.
North Korea reportedly test-fired two short-range missiles off its east coast on Dec. 19, the same day it announced the death of leader Kim Jong-il.
The Sankei said the latest launch was believed to have been delayed because of the former leader’s death.
The North has frequently conducted short-range missile tests in recent years. South Korean officials say they are part of routine exercises, but the tests are sometimes timed to coincide with periods of tension.
Since Kim’s death, there has been speculation that his son and successor, Kim Jong-un, may try to burnish his military credentials by conducting missile tests.
Meanwhile, South Korea said yesterday it still wants dialogue with North Korea despite a series of strongly worded attacks from Pyongyang following the death of Kim Jong-il.
The North late on Thursday published what it called a “White Paper,” blasting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s government as a “group of traitors” and accusing it of pushing inter-Korean ties to the lowest point in years.
Despite such attacks, “it’s better for South-North relations to move along the path toward co-existence and co-prosperity while maintaining peace and stability,” said Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Unification, which handles cross-border issues. “In this context, we find it necessary to set up a stable dialogue channel and when it’s in place, we will be able to discuss and resolve pending issues through dialogue between responsible authorities.”
Relations have been icy since the South accused the North of responsibility for two deadly cross-border incidents in 2010. In recent weeks, the North has accused the South’s government of showing disrespect during the mourning period for Kim Jong-il, who died on Dec. 17.
On Thursday, the North’s state Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said Lee’s government had escalated confrontation and staged a smear campaign.
It said the South Korean military was put on alert following the announcement of Kim Jong-il’s sudden death and accused Seoul of “leveling the gun at the fellow countrymen shedding tears in great grief.”
“All the facts show that the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors is the No. 1 group of maniacs keen on confrontation and war,” it said, warning that “the group will face only merciless punishment.”