NKorea test-fires seven ballistic missiles

SEOUL: North Korea test-fired seven missiles off its east coast on Saturday, South Korean officials said, in what appeared to be a calculated message of defiance timed for the US Independence Day holiday.

The launches fuelled regional tensions after the communist state’s nuclear test in May, which coincided with the US Memorial Day holiday.

They came as Washington seeks support for tough enforcement of United Nations sanctions aimed at shutting down the North’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Seoul’s foreign ministry said the first four weapons launched into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) were ballistic missiles, which the North is banned from firing under various Security Council resolutions.

South Korea’s military said the fifth, sixth and seventh missiles were of the same type.

It was the first time in three years that the North had fired multiple ballistic missiles. It test-fired a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, along with six and mid-range missiles, on US Independence Day in 2006.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said they had a range of between 400 and 500 km but declined to say what type they were. Yonhap news agency said they were either Scuds, or Rodong-1 missiles whose maximum range of 1,300 km had been shortened.

The North on Thursday test-fired four short-range missiles with a range of 120 km into the Sea of Japan.

The latest launches, which started at 8am, were seen as more provocative since the missiles could potentially reach most of South Korea, and possibly parts of Japan.

“The military, on the basis of a strong joint defence alliance with the United States, is fully

prepared to fend off any threats or provocations by the North,” the Joint Chiefs said in a statement.

The foreign ministry said the missiles were fired from a base at Kitdaeryong near the eastern port of Wonsan.

It said the “provocative act... clearly violates” three United Nations Security Council resolutions, including the latest one on June 12 which toughened weapons-related sanctions on the North in response to its May 25 nuclear test.

Meanwhile, Japan has condemned the launches. “It is a serious act of provocation against the security of neighbouring countries, including our country,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said.