North Korea launches missile in East Sea


This undated picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 11, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment in North Korea's western sector near the disputed maritime frontier with South Korea.



SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired off short-range missiles into the East Sea on Friday amid heightened tension following its February nuclear test, a military source in Seoul said.

"A North Korean military unit on drill test-fired two shots of short-range missiles, presumed to be KN-02 missiles, into the East Sea" the source said.

The source did not say the exact time of the launch.

"The launch was seen as testing its capability for short-range missiles. It seemed to be conducted on a military-unit level, not at a national level."

North Korea is ratcheting up war rhetoric almost daily in response to the UN Security Council's adoption of new sanctions for the country's Feb. 12 nuke test.

North Korea needs to back up its threats somehow, says GlobalPost's senior correspondent in Seoul. Short of a full provocation, Pyongyang watchers in South Korea see this as an attempt to push the boundaries without going overboard and igniting a retaliation.

It also appears North Korea has been gradually stepping up its threats. This week, Kim Jong Un himself supervised live-fire artillery exercises at the West Sea, no doubt a reminder to South Koreans of the capabilities of the hermit state. But the launch of KN-02 missiles appears to be a move to turn up the bluster a notch.

Still, this show of force isn't at the level of the Unha-3 rocket launch in December: that edifice was larger, more sophisticated, and carried a satellite — even if a primitive one.

Usually, missile launches are messages for the US and Japan, and are not so much directed Seoul. For South Korea, the more pragmatic and threatening option is showing off conventional artillery pieces, many of which are stationed directly above the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and can, in theory, be used to wreak havoc on South Korean territory.

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Pyongyang is believed to have more than 1,000 missiles — most of which are able to strike South Korea — and some are capable of hitting Japanese and US military bases in this region. The KN-02 missiles, an upgraded version of SS-21 short-range missiles, are estimated to have a range of about 120 kilometers.

The South Korean military source said the North's missile launch appears to be in response to the joint South Korea-US Foal Eagle and Key Resolve military exercises that began on Monday.

Yonhap News Agency and GlobalPost's Geoffrey Cain contributed to this report.

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