Defiant North Korea fires two ballistic missiles

South Koreans watching news of a North Korean missile launch at Seoul station on March 18.
South Koreans watching news of a North Korean missile launch at Seoul station on March 18. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL • North Korea test-fired two medium-range ballistic missiles, South Korea's military said, as the isolated state stepped up its defiance of tough new United Nations and American sanctions.

United States defence officials said they had tracked two launches - both believed to be medium- range Rodong missiles fired from road-mobile launch vehicles. The Rodong has a maximum range of around 1,300km, which makes it capable of hitting most of Japan.

South Korean military officials said the first missile was launched early yesterday from Sukchon in the country's south-west and flew 800km across the Korean peninsula before splashing into the sea off the east coast. The second, fired about 20 minutes later, disappeared off radar early into its flight.

The launch quickly provoked a barrage of criticism and appeals.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged North Korea to abide by UN resolutions and not do anything to exacerbate tensions.

The US State Department, in a statement, urged North Korea to focus on taking concrete steps towards fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.

Japan lodged a protest with North Korea through its embassy in Beijing, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Parliament. "Japan strongly demands North Korea to exercise self-restraint and will take all necessary measures, such as warning and surveillance activity, to be able to respond to any situations," he said.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said Pyongyang should focus on improving its people's lives and that provocative actions would help nothing.

North Korea often fires missiles during periods of tension on the Korean peninsula. Last week, it fired two short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast and its leader Kim Jong Un ordered more nuclear weapons tests and missile tests.

That came after North Korean media said the North had miniaturised nuclear warheads to fit on ballistic missiles and quoted Mr Kim as calling on the military to prepare for a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" against the US and South Korea.

US President Barack Obama imposed new UN-backed sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday over its nuclear test and missile launch this year. The sanctions freeze North Korean government assets in the US, ban US exports to, or investment in, the North, and expand a US blacklist to anyone, including non-Americans, who deals with the North.

Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan 6 and launched a long-range rocket on Feb 7 in defiance of existing UN Security Council resolutions. It has reacted angrily to annual joint military drills by US and South Korean troops that began on March 7, calling the exercises "nuclear war moves" and threatening to wipe out its enemies.

Over the past several weeks, the two Koreas suspended economic ties over the mounting tensions.

South Korean and US officials this month began talks on deploying the advanced anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system to the US military in the South, despite China and Russia's objections.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'Defiant North Korea fires two ballistic missiles'. Print Edition | Subscribe