North Korea yesterday test-fired four short-range missiles into the sea, Seoul’s Ministry of Defense said, in an apparent show of force to coincide with South Korea-US joint military exercises.
A ministry spokesman said the missiles, with an estimated range of about 200km, were fired off the east coast of North Korea.
“Our military will maintain tight vigilance in preparation for additional launches or any military provocation from the North,” the spokesman said.
It is not unusual for North Korea to carry out short-range missile tests and it has used them before to display its anger at the annual military exercises. Observers said the tests were unlikely to trigger a significant rise in military tensions.
“It seems fairly routine,” said Kim Yong-hyun, an expert on North Korean affairs at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
“It’s mainly about sending a message — about the drills and also its anger over the recent UN rights report,” Kim said.
A UN-mandated commission published a damning report earlier this month, detailing horrific human rights abuses in North Korea and concluding that they could comprise crimes against humanity.
Despite the start of the South Korea-US drills on Monday, which the North routinely condemns as rehearsals for invasion, relations between Seoul and Pyongyang are enjoying something of a thaw.
This year’s drills overlapped with the end of the first reunion for more than three years of families divided by the Korean War — an event that has raised hopes of greater cross-border cooperation.
Pyongyang had initially insisted that the joint exercises be postponed until after the reunion finished on Tuesday, but Seoul refused and — in a rare concession — the North allowed the family gathering to go ahead as scheduled.