North fired three ballistic missiles, South concludes

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North fired three ballistic missiles, South concludes

A joint assessment by South Korea and the United States concluded that North Korea fired short-range ballistic missiles last week, negating an earlier announcement by the Blue House that the North appeared to have used a multiple rocket launcher system.

The North fired three projectiles off its eastern coast on Saturday in an apparent protest of the ongoing joint military exercise between the South and the United States.

The first and third projectiles flew for about 250 kilometers (155 miles) before landing in the East Sea, while the second exploded almost immediately after liftoff, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Based on the joint assessment, we reached an interim conclusion that they were short-range ballistic missiles,” a military official said Monday.

The conclusion was different from an earlier announcement by the Blue House.

On Saturday, Yoon Young-chan, senior presidential secretary for public affairs, said in a press release that the North appeared to have fired a modified 300-millimeter multiple rocket launcher.

The U.S. Pacific Command, however, said on the same day that its initial assessment indicated “three short-range ballistic missile launches.”

A missile is usually equipped with a guidance system that helps it reach its destination, while a shell flies to wherever the artillery is pointed.

A ballistic missile can carry a heavy warhead and its trajectory follows a parabolic path. In contrast, an artillery shell carries lighter payload. Its trajectory is different from that of a ballistic missile.

The North has often test-fired ballistic missiles at lofted trajectories, but during the latest launch, the North fired them a lower angle to mimic the trajectory of shelling.

“They filed the projectiles at a different angle from the past,” the military official said. “We need further analysis on the specific type of the missiles.”

Criticism grew that the Blue House tried to downplay the significance of the latest launches. The United Nations Security Council resolutions bar the North from making any launch using ballistic missile technology. Multiple rocket launchers, however, are not covered by the ban.

Conservative opposition parties attacked the Moon Jae-in administration for having failed to offer accurate information to the public, possibly with an intention to downplay the significance of the launches.

“An investigation is needed for why wrong information was announced and the responsible officials need to be punished,” Rep. Khang Hyo-sang, spokesman of the Liberty Korea Party, said.

“The Blue House was suspected of trying to downplay the launches and concerns are growing if the information sharing between Seoul and Washington is broken,” said Bareun Party spokesman Lee Jong-cheol.

The People’s Party questioned if it was the Blue House’s intention to protect the North, noting that shelling is not in violation of UN resolutions, while ballistic missile launches are.

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