North Korea fires two more missiles into sea

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea on Sunday, Seoul's military said, in an apparent show of anger at an upcoming joint military drill between South Korea and the Unites States.

The North fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off the east coast at 1:20 and 1:30 a.m., the South's defense ministry told AFP.

"Their range appear to be around 500 kilometres (310.7 miles)," he said, adding Seoul's military had stepped up monitoring for additional launches.

The move - the latest in a series of similar launches in recent weeks - came a day after Pyongyang condemned an upcoming Seoul-Washington naval joint exercise.

The annual drill, to be held July 16 to 21, involves the US aircraft carrier George Washington, which arrived in the southern port of Busan on Friday.

The North bristled at the massive carrier visiting the port, calling it a "reckless" act of provocation on Saturday.

"The US should properly understand that the more persistently it resorts to reckless nuclear blackmail and threat, the further (the North) will bolster up its cutting edge nuclear force for self-defense," said the North's top military body, the National Defence Commission.

The North has habitually slammed joint military exercises held south of the border and often responded with missile launches.

UN resolutions bar the North from conducting any ballistic missile tests. Sunday's launch - the fifth in just over two weeks - took place at a sensitive area close to the heavily-fortified border with the South, the defense ministry official said without elaborating further.

Yonhap news agency said they were launched only about 20 kilometres north of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that divides the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a fragile armistice.

- Kim wants to look 'bold' -

"The North appears to be stepping up its threats by showing that it can fire missiles at any time and any place it wants," said Kim Jung-Bong, a political science professor at Hanzhong University.

The location may fall within the range of South Korean artillery guns, Kim said, adding the move was aimed at portraying the leader Kim Jong-Un as a "bold leader with guts".

The North has often fired short-range missiles or rockets into the sea to express anger at perceived provocations.

Previous tests had preceded Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Seoul, and were seen by some analysts as a show of pique at his decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang.

Japan lodged a protest to Sunday's launch to the North via the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, Kyodo News and Jiji Press said.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that the missile launch would "not affect" Tokyo's ongoing talks to solve the issue of Japanese abductees in the North, according to Jiji.

Dozens - or even hundreds - of Japanese citizens are known to have been snatched by North Korean spies to train their agents in language and customs during the 1970s and 1980s.

Tokyo earlier this month vowed to lift some of its sanctions on the North as Pyongyang promised to re-investigate the disappearances of Japanese citizens.

In between the recent launches, Pyongyang has also made several peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal for both sides to halt all provocative military activity.

The South dismissed the offer as "nonsensical" in the light of Pyongyang's nuclear programme and reiterated that the annual joint drills are non-negotiable.

But it accepted another offer by Pyongyang to send a delegation of cheerleaders to support North Korean athletes during the September 19-October 4 Asian Games in the South.

Seoul last week proposed to hold talks to coordinate the trip at a border truce village of Panmunjom on Thursday.

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