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(4th LD) Seoul says N.K. fires four ballistic missiles; three fall in Japanese waters

2017/03/06 11:57

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, ADDS ministry's comments on missile type in paras 4-5, Hwang's comment in 8th para, Seoul's confirmation on three missiles in 14th para, background in paras 18-21)

SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Monday fired four ballistic missiles into the East Sea, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, in an apparent reaction to the ongoing joint military drills by South Korea and the United States.

The four projectiles were launched from the Dongchang-ri long-range missile site in North Pyongan Province at 7:36 a.m. and all flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) before splashing into the East Sea, JCS said in a text message.

"We estimate the North fired four ballistic missiles. We are conducting an analysis (with the U.S.) to determine the exact type of missiles fired and other specifications. It will take a while before we can come up with a final analysis (based on U.S. satellite data)," the JCS said.

Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn convened a National Security Council meeting after the missile firing.

Hwang strongly condemned the launches, saying the North's nuke and missile provocations are "real and imminent threats for the people's lives and security."

   The missiles do not appear to be intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the western part of the U.S. mainland, the Ministry of National Defense said in a press briefing.

Earlier in the day, military officials raised the possibility that the projectiles could be ICBMs if launched at a high angle.

In this photo taken on March 6, 2017, two men watch a news report on North Korea's firing of ballistic missiles into the East Sea early Monday morning. (Yonhap) In this photo taken on March 6, 2017, two men watch a news report on North Korea's firing of ballistic missiles into the East Sea early Monday morning. (Yonhap)

Experts said the projectiles could be short-range Scud missiles with a range of 500-700 km or mid-range Rodong missiles with a range of 1,300-1,500 km given the number of missiles.

"If North Korea test-fired a new long-range missile, it was not an ICBM as it's not capable of launching multiple ones at the same time," said Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Kyungnam University.

A more than 6,000-km ICBM could fly far less than the range when launched at a high angle. But as the long-range missile is still being developed and has yet to be deployed, the North could not have fired several missiles, he said.

The North test-fired a long-range ballistic missile at the Dongchang-ri or "Sohae" missile launch site in February last year. It launched seven ballistic missiles, including three Musudan intermediate-range missiles, during the Foal Eagle drills last year.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reportedly said three out of four missiles fired by the North landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Seoul confirmed that three missiles fell into the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where Tokyo has sovereign rights for exploring resources. But it didn't provide the whereabouts of the fourth one.

The latest provocation comes a day after the U.S. said it may consider redeploying a tactical nuclear weapon to South Korea as a deterrent against growing nuclear and missile threats posed by the rogue regime.

On Friday, Pyongyang threatened to conduct more missile firings in response to the two-month-long Foal Eagle exercise between Seoul and Washington, which lasts through April.

The Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party's official newspaper, said in a commentary that "new types of strategic weapons will soar" if Seoul and Washington continue their annual war drills, which the North claims to be a preparation for a war against it.

Seoul and Washington call the annual drills on the Korean Peninsula defensive and routine.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The communist state conducted two nuclear tests and 24 missile launches last year with the aim of eventually building long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

The U.S. has considered an ICBM test by the North, if perfected, as a major threat to its homeland.

In its latest provocations, Pyongyang launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile into the East Sea on Feb. 12 to boast its military readiness and test the response from the new Donald Trump administration.

It was the first test-firing of a North Korean missile since Trump became U.S. president on Jan. 20. and the country's first major provocation in 2017.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr

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