Pyongyang launches 2 probable missiles

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Pyongyang launches 2 probable missiles

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North Korea launched two projectiles believed to be missiles from a site on its western coast Thursday afternoon, according to South Korean military authorities.

According to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the North fired two rockets believed to be short-range missiles from a site in Kusong, North Pyongan Province, at 4:29 p.m. and 4:49 p.m., which flew approximately 420 kilometers (261 miles) and 270 kilometers respectively in an eastern direction into the East Sea. The altitude was 50 kilometers for both.

An earlier statement by the South’s military said the launches had been made from a base in Sino-ri, only miles from its recently restored Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri.

As of press time, it was not known exactly what type of rocket was fired, and the South’s military said it was trying to verify the facts with the United States. According to Kyodo News, Japan’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that the projectiles had not reached Tokyo’s territorial waters and did not directly affect its security.

The South Korean military’s assessment that the projectiles were missiles - a classification that it has avoided making for a test conducted last Saturday - may be based on the fact that they were fired from near the west coast in the direction of the East Sea, possibly going across the entire country.

The Blue House on Thursday expressed “grave concern” about the launches, saying they did not help alleviate military tension on the Korean Peninsula. South Korean President Moon Jae-in was due to make a live public address Thursday evening in commemoration of his second year in office.

In addition, Seoul may produce a joint statement with Japan and the United States reacting to the launches since top diplomatic and security officials were in consultation in Seoul when the North made its surprise launch on Thursday.

The launch came only five days after Pyongyang fired a host of projectiles from a base near Wonsan, Kangwon Province, on its eastern coast last Saturday that included what the U.S. Department of Defense on Wednesday labeled a “rocket and missile.”

Sino-ri is believed to house a regiment-sized military base equipped with Rodong-1 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM), identified last January through satellite footage by experts at Beyond Parallel, a program of the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The experts called the base there “one of the oldest of approximately 20 undeclared missile operating bases” in the country, which apparently serves as a key site from which Pyongyang would, in the event of war, exercise nuclear or conventional first-strike capabilities at targets across the peninsula.

Rodong-1, also known as the Hwasong-7, missiles are ballistic weapons that the North developed in the mid-1980s as an adaptation of the Soviet Union’s so-called Scud missiles. According to a U.S. government estimate from 2006, Pyongyang is believed to own around 200 of these weapons, some of which have a range of about 1,200 to 1,500 kilometers - enough to target all of Japan.

If the projectiles fired Thursday were ballistic missiles, the North may have dialed up its provocations far beyond the level it displayed last week, which prompted alarm but also tolerant reactions from Seoul and Washington. That good will, however, may have gone up in flames with this latest launch.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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