North Korea fires 3 missiles amid tensions over drone flights
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters in its latest arms display on Saturday, a day after its South Korean rival conducted a rocket launch related to its desire to build space-based surveillance to better monitor the North.
Tensions between rival Koreas rose this week when South Korea accused North Korea of flying five drones across the tense border for the first time in five years and responded by sending its own drones to the North.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that they detected the three launches from an inland area south of Pyongyang, the northern capital, on Saturday morning. He said the three missiles traveled about 350 kilometers (220 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The estimated range suggests the missiles tested could target South Korea.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launches a « serious provocation » that undermines international peace. He said South Korea remained ready to « overwhelmingly » deter any provocation by North Korea.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight the « destabilizing impact » of North Korea’s illegal weapons programs and that U.S. commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan « remained foolproof ». Earlier on Saturday, Japan’s Defense Ministry also reported suspected ballistic missile launches by North Korea.
On Monday, the South Korean military dispatched fighter jets and helicopters, but did not shoot down any of the North Korean drones before returning home or disappearing from South Korea’s radar. One of the North Korean drones traveled as far north as Seoul, causing security concerns among many people in the south.
South Korea again flew three of its surveillance drones across the border on Monday in an unusual tit-for-tat. South Korea on Thursday held large-scale military drills to simulate downing drones.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called for strengthening his country’s air defense network and pledged to react harshly to North Korea’s provocations.
Since taking office in May, Yoon’s government has stepped up regular military exercises with the United States in the face of increasing North Korean nuclear threats. North Korea called the drills an invasion rehearsal and argued that its recent missile tests were its response. But some experts say North Korea is using the South Korea-US formation as a pretext to modernize its arsenal and increase its influence in future relations with the United States.
Prior to Saturday’s launches, North Korea had already tested more than 70 missiles this year. Many of them were nuclear-capable weapons designed to attack the American continent and its allies South Korea and Japan.
Later on Saturday, senior diplomats from South Korea, Japan and the United States jointly denounced the North’s launches after a phone call. They agreed to strengthen their deterrence against North Korea and work together to achieve the North’s denuclearization, according to the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministries.
On Friday, South Korea launched a solid-fuel rocket, a type of space launch vehicle it plans to use to put its first spy satellite into orbit in the coming years.
Defense officials said it was a follow-up test to the country’s first successful solid-fuel rocket launch in March. The unannounced launch sparked a brief public scare of a UFO sighting or a North Korean missile.
North Korea is also pushing to acquire its first military surveillance satellite. Earlier this month, he said he used two old missiles as space launchers to test a camera and other systems needed for a spy satellite and later released low-resolution satellite photos showing South Korean cities.
Some South Korean experts said North Korean satellite imagery was too crude for military reconnaissance purposes and that North Korean rocket launches were likely a disguised test of missile technology. Furious at such an assessment, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, hurled crude insults at unidentified South Korean experts. She also dismissed doubts about North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile technology and threatened to conduct a full ICBM test.
This week, North Korea is hosting a major ruling party meeting in Pyongyang to review past policies and political goals for 2023. It is highly unusual for North Korea to test launch a missile during a key meeting.
In an indication that the Workers’ Party plenum was coming to an end, state media in the North reported on Saturday that its powerful Politburo had decided to complete the plenum’s draft resolution.
Some observers said North Korea would likely release details of the meeting on Sunday, which would carry Kim Jong Un’s wishes to expand its nuclear arsenal and introduce sophisticated weapons in the name of fighting what he calls the American hostility.
Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.
Hyung-jin Kim, Associated Press