Pyongyang launches five missiles into the East Sea

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Pyongyang launches five missiles into the East Sea

North Korea fired five short-range projectiles Monday afternoon, all of which landed in the sea off its east coast in the country’s latest provocation during joint military exercises by South Korea and the United States.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired five short-range projectiles from the northeastern city of Hamhung, South Hamgyong, 200 kilometers (124 miles) into the East Sea between 3:19 p.m. and 4:05 p.m., adding that the military is trying to identify whether it was ground-to-ground short-range missiles or multiple rocket launcher.

“Our military is closely watching the situation and maintaining full combat readiness,” the Joint Chiefs said.

Given its range, the projectile was presumed to be a 300-millimeter multiple rocket launcher, which North Korea first tested in 2013. The system can reach U.S. bases in Pyeongtaek and Osan, as well as the Gyeryongdae military headquarters in South Chungcheong.

Following the North’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and a long-range missile test on Feb. 7, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a strong resolution, and the United States and South Korea kicked off their largest-ever military drills with 300,000 South Korean and 17,000 American troops earlier this month. The exercises will be conducted throughout the end of April.

A military source said the North fired its short-range projectiles as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Lee Soon-jin and Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, chief commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, were inspecting the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, which is participating in the joint military drills in the East Sea.

Monday’s firing marked the North’s fourth missile launch in March alone, following two medium-range ballistic missile launches on Friday, six short-range projectiles on March 3 and two Scud-type short-range missiles on March 10.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have continued to escalate as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed another nuclear test and the firing of ballistic missiles “in a short time” last week, ignoring the international community’s pressure to abandon nuclear weapons development.

North Korea is capable of conducting a fifth nuclear test at any time, the South’s Ministry of Unification said early Monday at its regular briefing, adding that the South Korean government is preparing for all possibilities.

The website 38 North, which specializes in North Korean affairs and is run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said Friday that satellite imagery from March 6 and March 14 show active maintenance at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

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

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