SEOUL: North Korea fired short-range missiles into the sea off its eastern coast for the second time in a week on Monday, prompting a warning from South Korea of “reckless provocation.”
The missile tests have clearly been timed to coincide with annual South Korea-United States military exercises, which kicked off a week ago and run until mid-April.
Two missiles were fired Monday and both flew around 500 kilometers into the Sea of Japan, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
Four short-range Scud missiles were fired in similar fashion on Thursday.
Both tests were condemned by Seoul, which urged the North to cease all testing immediately and said it would consider calling for sanctions.
“The North is taking a double-faced stance by making conciliatory gestures on one hand and pushing ahead with reckless provocation on the other,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok.
The Scuds are at the longer edge of the short-range spectrum, with an estimated reach of300-800 kilometers—capable of striking any target in the South.
It is not unusual for North Korea to carry out such tests, which often go unreported by South Korea.
But Kim said the Scud firings were of particular concern.
“We believe that the North is testing various ballistic missiles with various ranges as a show of force to threaten us,” he said.
Washington initially played down Thursday’s firings, but later suggested they violated United Nations (UN) sanctions imposed on the North’s missile program.
UN Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea “from launching any ballistic missile, and this includes any Scud missile,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren said on Friday.
Most analysts believe the missile tests reflect Pyongyang’s need to flex its muscles in the wake of the reunion compromise.
Last week, also saw an incursion by a North Korean patrol boat across the disputed Yellow Sea border that has been the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in the past.
No shots were fired and the vessel retreated to its side of the boundary after repeated warnings from the South Korean navy.
North Korea has hundreds of short-range missiles and has developed and tested—with limited success—several intermediate-range models.
Its claims to have a working inter-continental ballistic missile have been treated with scepticism by most experts, but there is no doubt that it is pushing ahead with an active, ambitious missile development program.