North Korea fired seven ballistic missiles in violation of UN resolutions and an apparent message of defiance to the US on its Independence Day.
North Korea launches 7 missiles
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA // North Korea fired seven ballistic missiles off its eastern coast today, South Korea said, a violation of UN resolutions and an apparent message of defiance to the United States on its Independence Day. The launches, which came two days after North Korea fired four short-range cruise missiles, will likely further escalate tensions in the region as the US tries to muster support for tough enforcement of the UN resolution imposed on the communist regime for its May nuclear test. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said three missiles were fired early today, a fourth around noon and two more in the afternoon. The Defense Ministry said that the missiles were ballistic and are believed to have flown more than 400 kilometres. "Our military is fully ready to counter any North Korean threats and provocations based on strong South Korea-US combined defence posture," the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted military officials as saying the missiles appeared to be a type of Scud missile. North Korea's Scuds are considered short-range, the South's military said. North Korea is not allowed to fire Scuds, medium-range missiles or long-range missiles under a resolution that bans any launch using ballistic missile technology. Thursday's launches, on the other hand, did not violate the resolution as they were cruise missiles rather than ballistic, according to South Korea's foreign ministry. Ballistic missiles are guided during their ascent out of the atmosphere but fall freely when they descend. Cruise missiles are fired straight at a target. The North has a record of timing missile tests for the US national day, which fell on today. "The missiles were seen as part of military exercises, but North Korea also appeared to have sent a message to the US through the missile launches," a senior official in South Korea's presidential said, without elaborating. The official said that North Korea could fire more missiles in coming days, but said there was little possibility it could fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, as it threatened in April. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media. North Korea's state news agency carried no reports on the launches. But the North had warned ships to stay away from its east coast through July 10 for military exercises - an indication it was planning launches. The chief of US Naval operations, Adm Gary Roughead, said today the American military was ready for any North Korean missile tests. "Our ships and forces here are prepared for the tracking of the missiles and observing the activities that are going on," Roughead said after meeting Japanese military officials in Tokyo before the news of the launches. South Korea and Japan, which are within easy range of North Korean missiles, condemned the launches as a "provocative" act that violates the UN resolution. South Korea "expressed deep regret over the North's continuous behaviour that escalates tensions in North-east Asia by repeatedly defying" the resolution, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said in a statement that the launch of missiles "is a serious act of provocation against the security of neighbouring countries, including Japan, and is against the resolution of the U.N Security Council." In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said he had no immediate comment. China is the North's closest ally. During the US Independence Day holiday in 2006, Pyongyang fired a barrage of missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 that broke apart and fell into the ocean less than a minute after lift-off. Those launches also came amid tensions with the US over North Korea's nuclear programme. A long-range missile launch by North Korea toward the United States would further flout the UN sanctions resolution punishing Pyongyang for its May 25 nuclear test. The US last month said it had positioned more missile defences around Hawaii as a precaution. But spy satellites have apparently not detected any of the preparations that would normally precede such a launch. The North wants to show Washington that it is not yielding to pressure, and the regime is likely to save a long-range launch for later, Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University and an expert on the country, said yesterday. * AP