North Korea fires two ballistic missiles to defy UN ban
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North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on Sunday, Seoul's military said, despite a UN ban on the country testing such weapons and just days before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s scheduled state visit to the South.
The North fired the missiles into the sea off its east coast Sunday morning, a defence ministry official told AFP.
"Both landed in international waters beyond its sea border," the official said.
He did not elaborate on the type of the missile. But Yonhap news agency, citing a military official, said they were short-range Scud missiles with a range of about 500 kilometres (300 miles).
The test firings on Sunday came three days after the North launched three short-range projectiles into the waters off its east coast, which flew about 190 km (120 miles) and landed in the sea.
Such launches are routine. North Korea frequently test-fires short range multi-rocket launchers, which are not prohibited under UN sanctions on the isolated country.
But the country’s possession and testing of ballistic missiles such as Soviet-era Scuds are in breach the sanctions and are seen to contribute to Pyongyang’s long-range missile programme. North Korea has so far conducted test firing of its ballistic missiles and rockets 11 times this year, including four involving ballistic missiles.
The isolated country usually test-fires its short-range rockets and ballistic missiles amid annual US-South Korean military exercises as a form of protest, observers say.
Pyongyang routinely denounces the joint military exercises as preparation for war.
‘A message of warning’
Sunday’s launch came less than a week before Xi’s July 3-4 visit to South Korea. Xi and South Korean President Park Geun-hye are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear programme in a summit meeting next Thursday.
China is the isolated North's sole major ally and major economic lifeline that offers precious fuel and food to its wayward ally.
But ties have been tested by the North's pursuit of nuclear programmes in defiance of pressure from the international community, including Beijing.
The North staged its third atomic test – its most powerful so far - in February 2013, triggering new sanctions and condemnation by UN Security Council members including China.
The latest missile launches were aimed at increasing pressure on Xi and Park ahead of their talks, said Shin In-Kyun, head of Korea Defense Network, a Seoul-based think tank.
"The two leaders will inevitably discuss how to curb the North's nuclear ambition and how to punish Pyongyang if it pushes ahead with the weapons programme," Shin said.
"And the North is sending a message of warning in advance, to prevent the leaders from criticising Pyongyang too harshly," he said.
North Korea is also due hold talks with Japan this week to work out the details of Pyongyang’s plan to reinvestigate the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the reclusive state decades ago.
North Korea said the launch was “part of its routine military exercise” and that there should be no affect on planned governmental talks between North Korea and Japan next Tuesday, a North Korean foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by Japanese media.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Japan wanted to raise the issue during the talks.
“We think this issue needs to be addressed properly at the government talks,” he told reporters. “We must make a firm demand toward North Korea that they follow the UN Security council resolution and other agreements.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)