Seoul, March 19 (IANS) North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) toward the East Sea on Sunday, South Korea’s military said, in yet another provocation in apparent protest over an ongoing South Korea-US military exercise.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the Tongchang-ri area on the country’s west coast at 11:05 a.m., and the missile flew nearly 800 kilometre before splashing into the sea.
The Tongchang-ri area is home to the North’s key long-range rocket launch site, Yonhap news agency reported.
“The intelligence authorities of South Korea and the US are conducting a comprehensive analysis on (the missile’s) specifics,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.
It added the allies will carry out their combined military drills in a “high-intensity” and “thorough” manner, while vowing to maintain a firm readiness posture based on capabilities to respond “overwhelmingly” to any North Korean provocations.
“We strongly condemn the North’s series of ballistic missile launches as an act of significant provocation that harms peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula, but also in the international community, and a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” the JCS said, urging the North to immediately stop such launches.
Following the launch, the top nuclear envoys of South Korea, US and Japan held phone talks, condemned the North’s latest provocation and discussed their coordinated responses, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said.
Kim Gunn, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, as well as his US and Japanese counterparts– Sung Kim and Takehiro Funakoshi, respectively — agreed to step up consultations and coordination to build a united response against Pyongyang’s provocations at the upcoming UN Security Council’s meeting in New York slated for Monday, it added.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch posed no immediate threat to the US or allies.
“The North Korea’s recent missile launches highlight the destabilising impact of its unlawful (weapons of mass destruction) and ballistic missile programmes,” it said in a statement.
“The US commitments to the defence of the South Korea and Japan remain ironclad.”
The North has been ratcheting up tensions as the allies are conducting their regular Freedom Shield exercise that it has decried as “preparations of a war of aggression against it”. The 11-day exercise is set to conclude on Thursday.
Last week, the North fired a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It followed the launch of two short-range ballistic missiles on March 14 and of what it claimed to be two “strategic cruise missiles” from a submarine two days earlier.
The ICBM launch came just hours before President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a summit in Tokyo and agreed on stronger security cooperation against the North’s growing nuclear and missile threats.
Concerns have persisted that the North could use the allies’ exercise as a pretext to launch major provocations, such as an ICBM launch and even a nuclear test.