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North Korea launches missiles ahead of US-Seoul drills

Pyongyang fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Sunday, according to South Korea's military. It comes a day after the North condemned a planned joint naval exercise between the US and South Korea.

The missiles, believed to be of Scud variations, were fired from the North Korean city of Kaesong near the border with the South. They had a range of about 500 kilometers (311 miles), a South Korean military official said.

The launches are the latest in a series of missile tests by the North, apparently in response to the joint annual US-South Korean naval exercise, scheduled for July 16-21. The US aircraft carrier George Washington arrived in the southern port of Busan on Friday, which North Korea called a "reckless nuclear blackmail and threat."

"The US should properly understand that the more persistently it resorts to reckless nuclear blackmail and threat, the further (the North) will bolster up its cutting-edge nuclear force for self-defense," said the North's top military body, the National Defense Commission.

Although Pyongyangregularly conducts test firings, this year has seen an unusually high number of launches. South Korean officials have confirmed 90 since mid-February.

But North Korea experts said it was highly unusual for Pyongyang to fire missiles from the city just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border separating the two Koreas, as Kaesong is seen as a symbol of North-South cooperation. It could indicate that Pyongyang is determined to demonstrate its anger over the joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington.

Pyongyang usually test-fires missiles launched from its eastern port city of Wonsan, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the border.

North Korea has been trying to push the South into cancelling regular drills between Seoul and Washington, which it believes are building up to a northward invasion. Cancelling the drills is one of Pyongyang's conditions for easing tensions with the South.

UN resolutions do not allow North Korea to own nor fire ballistic missiles.

ng/tj (AP, AFP)

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