North shoots 2 missiles, seizes South’s assets

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North shoots 2 missiles, seizes South’s assets

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast early Thursday and declared it was liquidating all South Korean assets in North Korea, further protests of joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington as well as Seoul’s new unilateral sanctions.

In the first official response to South Korea’s sanctions announced on Tuesday, North Korea called the measures “nonsense” and referred to President Park Geun-hye as an “American prostitute,” according to a statement by the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula ratcheted up early Thursday as South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its eastern coastal city of Wonsan at 5:20 a.m., which flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles). The North’s ballistic missile technology is banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions.

In the South, 300,000 South Korean and 17,000 American troops have been conducting the largest-ever military drills using powerful U.S. military assets. The North warned on Sunday that it would launch a “preemptive and offensive nuclear strike” at the two allies in response to the exercises.

South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that it is discussing with allies a diplomatic response, such as sending a letter to a sanctions panel under the United Nations Security Council to call for a probe into the missiles launched on Thursday.

A few hours after the launches, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles inter-Korean ties, said North Korea’s troops are ready for a preemptive strike against South Korea and vowed to hurt the Park government with a “political, military and economic attack.” This came a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claimed his country had miniaturized a warhead to fit atop ballistic missiles, which Seoul and Washington questioned.

The committee said Pyongyang will nullify all inter-Korean agreements on economic cooperation and liquidate assets in two major projects in North Korea, the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang tour program.

South Korea urged the North not to damage South Korean assets, the Ministry of Unification said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

North Korea seized South Korean factories and products in the jointly run industrial park a day after the South announced on Feb. 10 the shutting of the complex as a punitive response to the North’s nuclear test on Jan. 6 and long-range missile launch on Feb. 7.

Mount Kumgang tours have been suspended since 2008 after a South Korean tourist was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier. North Korea then seized a reunion center owned by the South Korean government, as well as hotels, golf courses and stores run by South Korean firms.

South Korea announced Tuesday a fresh set of unilateral sanction designed to curb the North’s development of weapons of mass destruction that included a blacklist of 40 individuals and 30 entities, following a UN resolution earlier this month that expanded sanctions against North Korea.

BY KIM SO-HEE, JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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