Seoul: North Korea fired Scuds for first time since 2009
SEOUL, South Korea — The short-range Scud missiles North Korea fired into the sea Thursday were a type it hasn't launched since 2009, South Korea confirmed Friday, though analysts say the apparent protest over U.S.-South Korean military drills were likely not a prelude to higher tensions.
Four projectiles with a range of more than 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) landed off the North's eastern coast, and South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters that an analysis of their speed and trajectory showed they were Scud missiles.
Defense officials also confirmed reports that North Korea fired four other short-range KN-02 missiles with a range of about 100 kilometers (62 miles) one week ago.
Kim said South Korean officials didn't disclose last Friday's launches because North Korea frequently test-launches such short-range missiles. But Kim said Scud-series missiles, which are capable of hitting all of South Korea, are a security threat and Thursday's Scud launches were the first of that kind since 2009.
He said there are no signs that North Korea is preparing for additional missile launches.
Analysts said the launches were largely aimed at protesting the South Korea-U.S. military drills that began Monday and won't be a prelude to a spike in tension. Pyongyang calls the annual military exercises a rehearsal for invasion, though Washington and Seoul say they are defensive in nature.
"The launches were a test designed to improve its missile capability and also an armed protest against the drills," said analyst Cheong Seong-jang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. "But we already know (they have Scud missiles) ... We also have such a level of missiles. The launches didn't have special meaning."
China, North Korea's major ally, offered a muted reaction. "We hope that all relevant parties should commit to moving the situation on the Korean Peninsula toward relaxation" of tensions, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said during a regular briefing.
The U.S. State Department earlier said it was closely monitoring the situation and urged North Korea to exercise restraint and take steps to improve relations with its neighbors.
Last year, North Korea furiously reacted to the same South Korean-U.S. military drills by issuing a torrent of fiery rhetoric and threats to launch nuclear missiles against Seoul and Washington. Last year's drills came after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. The U.S. took the unusual step of sending nuclear-capable bombers in a show of its resolve to protect its ally.
North Korea hasn't issued harsh rhetoric against the current drills after their start. It has recently sought better ties with South Korea in what outside analysts say is an effort to win badly needed foreign investment and aid. The Koreas this month held their first reunions of Korean War-divided families in more than three years.
Pyongyang earlier threatened to scrap the arrangement for the family reunions in anger over the drills but later allowed them to proceed after high-level talks with Seoul.
The Korean Peninsula officially remains at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.
Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington in Washington and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.