SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters in its latest weapons display yesterday, a day after rival South Korea launched a solid-fuelled rocket as part of its efforts to build a space-based surveillance capability to better monitor the North.
Tensions between the rival Koreas rose earlier this week when South Korea accused North Korea of flying five drones across the rivals’ tense border for the first time in five years and responded by sending its own drones toward the North.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement it detected the three launches from an inland area south of Pyongyang, the North’s capital, yesterday morning.
It said the three missiles travelled about 350 kilometres before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The estimated range suggests the missiles tested target South Korea.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launches “a grave provocation” that undermines international peace.
It said South Korea closely monitors North Korean moves in coordination with the United States (US) and maintains a readiness to “overwhelmingly” deter any provocation by North Korea.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight “the destabilising impact” of North Korea’s unlawful weapons programme and that the US commitments to the defence of South Korea and Japan “remain ironclad”.
Earlier yesterday, Japan’s Defence Ministry also reported suspected ballistic missile firings by North Korea. It was North Korea’s first missile launch in eight days and came five days after South Korea said it detected the North Korean drones, all presumed to be small surveillance drones, south of the border.
Before yesterday’s launches, North Korea had already test-fired more than 70 missiles this year, many of them nuclear-capable weapons.