Scuds fired from Kaesong regionNorth Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles yesterday, the latest in a series of military provocations combined with conciliatory gestures ahead of the upcoming Asian Games in South Korea, Seoul officials said.
An official from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters yesterday that Pyongyang launched the two projectiles, assumed to be Scud-C type missiles with a 500-kilometer (310-mile) range, at 1:20 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., respectively, at an unidentified site near Kaesong, a border city with South Korea.
The projectiles crossed the North Korean territory from the western border city to the East Sea, the official said. The regime did not issue any warning to vessels sailing in nearby waters.
The South Korean military said it was the third time Pyongyang has launched Scud-type missiles toward the East Sea, following launches on June 29 and July 9.
Unlike the previous launches, yesterday’s projectiles blasted off from a site 10 kilometers north of Kaesong and just 20 kilometers from the inter-Korean border, a senior Seoul military official said.
“It is notable for North Korea to fire the missiles near the inter-Korean border following those launched in Wonsan City [on June 29] and Pyongsan [on July 9],” the senior official said. “It is more common to fire a missile from a site far from the inter-Korean border because it could drop on the land.
“It seems that [North Korea] launched them in order to show off its capability of firing a missile anywhere they want and accelerate military tensions.”
Yesterday’s launch came after a U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea, which Pyongyang publicly denounced as “reckless military moves.”
The USS George Washington, a 97,000-ton, nuclear-powered supercarrier, arrived in the southern port city of Busan on Friday to participate in upcoming joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States on July 21 and 22 in international waters off Jeju Island, dubbed “Search and Rescue Exercise” (Sarex).
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency released a statement in the name of the spokesman of the powerful National Defense Commission, which is chaired by Kim Jong-un, calling upon the two allies to stop “reckless military moves.”
Mentioning the arrival of the aircraft carrier and some U.S. Aegis destroyers, the statement said the exercises would ruin the conciliatory atmosphere between the two Koreas ahead of the Incheon Asian Games in September.
“.?.?. these grave maneuvers are slated to take place in defiance of the special proposal sent by the NDC of the DPRK to the South Korean authorities for improving north-south relations and ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula,” it said in an English-language dispatch. “The planned reckless military actions of the U.S. and South Korea are another open challenge to the sincere efforts to the army and people of the DPRK to defuse the tension on the peninsula and create a peaceful atmosphere.”
This year, North Korea has launched more than 90 various projectiles, from the old FROG-type rockets to 300-milimeter projectiles fired from multiple rocket launchers as well as some ballistic Rodong and Scud-type missiles. Analysts say it is estimated that the impoverished regime has spent about 200 billion won ($196 million) on the test-fires in total.
Seoul officials say it costs about 5 billion won for Pyongyang to test-fire a Scud-C type missile, which was developed in the 1980s.
“North Korea exports a Scud-C type missile for about $5 million,” a North Korean defector said on the condition of anonymity.
The launches seemed to be saber-rattling and North Korea appears to be showing off of its missile-launching capabilities, according to officials here. They pointed out that the projectiles were fired from various launch sites, not just eastern costal cities such as Wonsan, but from western sites such as Pyongsan County, and this time, from near the border.
“The number of North Korean soldiers sent to farmlands has been reduced and the regime started the sudden missile launches mostly in early morning,” a senior South Korean military official said. “It could be an attempt to test our military’s posture and readiness to various missile preparations of North Korea.”
KCNA reported on July 10 that Kim urged rocket units during a field-guidance trip on July 9 to “step up the combat readiness of rockets and always keep themselves ready to promptly fire them by undergoing drills under the simulated conditions of an actual battle.”
A Seoul official said that they were analyzing Pyongyang’s intentions behind continuous missile tests and simultaneous conciliatory moves such as a proposal to send cheerleaders to the Incheon Asian Games.
North Korea proposed last week to hold low-level talks to discuss the visits of its athletes and cheerleaders to the South. Seoul officially accepted the proposal and suggested the talks be held on July 17 at the truce village of Panmunjom.
“It is unusual for North Korea to make military moves and proposals for a dialogue at the same time,” the official said. “We are analyzing the background of North Korea’s act of raising military tensions ahead of the low-level talks regarding the Incheon Asian Games.”
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM HEE-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]