(2nd LD) N. Korea fires 5 short-range rockets into East Sea
SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired five short-range rockets into the East Sea on Thursday, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, as Pope Francis landed here with a message of peace for the Korean Peninsula.
Three projectiles, presumed to have come from a 300-millimeter multiple rocket launcher, "were fired from its eastern border town of Wonsan in a northeastern direction for about 25 minutes from 9:30 a.m. in succession," JCS spokesman Um Hyo-sik told reporters.
They were presumed to have landed in the East Sea after flying some 220 kilometers, he said, noting that Pyongyang did not impose a no-fly, no-sail zone ahead of the launch.
At around noon, the communist country launched two additional rockets from the same place into the East Sea, which flew some 200 kilometers, according to the JCS.
"Our military has maintained vigilance against additional launches and is taking necessary steps," Um added.
Military sources here have said the communist country seems to be test-firing the rockets in an effort to increase their range. Though the launcher, called the KN-09, was thought to have a range of 160 kilometers, rockets fired last month traveled 210 km.
"The North also appears to have been trying to show off its rocket-launch capabilities by continuing such saber-rattling moves," another JCS officer said, asking not to be named.
"We are analyzing if its leader Kim Jong-un inspected today's firing as he has often done."
The firing came on the day of Pope Francis' arrival in South Korea for a five-day trip. Upon arrival, he said he harbors "peace for the Korean Peninsula" deep in his mind.
Seoul's foreign ministry denounced North Korea's rocket launch, calling on the North to halt "reckless" provocative acts.
"It is not good that the North fired rockets on the day when the pope visited Seoul with a message of peace and reconciliation," foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said in a press briefing. "We think that the North should end its reckless provocations."
Thursday's firing marked the 17th time that the communist country has launched rockets this year, and the sixth firing of 300 mm projectiles in 2014. The last such launch of the large-caliber rockets was some two weeks ago when it fired four from a site near Mount Myohyang in Pyongan Province.
The latest launch brought the total number of rockets and missiles fired by the North to 107.
The large-caliber rockets pose a threat to South Korea, as they are capable of striking major military facilities, such as the headquarters of the three military branches that are located some 130 kilometers south of Seoul.
In a move to boost the accuracy of its projectiles, the North has been trying to equip launchers with strong guidance systems, but further analysis is needed to determine whether it has now successfully added the function, military sources here said.
North Korea is known to possess about 5,000 launchers, ranging from 107 mm to 300 mm.