South Korean and Japanese officials said that North Korea fired four banned ballistic missiles that flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the Tongchang-ri region into the Sea of Japan. A South Korean military official said the launch occurred at 7:36 am local time (22.36 UTC Sunday).
"South Korea and the United States are conducting a close-up analysis, regarding further information," South Korea's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo lodged a "strong protest" to North Korea after the launch of what it said were four ballistic missiles. "The latest launches of ballistic missiles clearly demonstrate evidence of a new threat from North Korea," Abe told reporters at his residence.
Japan's Ministry of Defense said the missiles landed in waters as close as 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Japan's northeast coast.
Japanese officials said three of the four missiles landed in the offshore area where Tokyo has sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources. Abe told parliament the missile launches were "clearly in violation of (UN) Security Council resolutions. It is an extremely dangerous action."
Seohae Satellite Station
The missiles were launched from a site close to the North Korea-China border, according to the South Korean defense ministry. The Tongchang-ri region hosts the North's Seohae Satellite Station where North Korea launched a long-range missile in 2016 which was condemned by the UN for violating resolutions that ban the use of missile technology. South Korea's military said the missiles launched Monday were unlikely to be intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) which could reach the US.
The US said it detected and tracked Monday's missile launches and said they did not threaten the country. US Strategic Command spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Martin O'Donnell said US forces "remain vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and are fully committed to working closely with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies to maintain security."
The launches come days after Washington and Seoul began major military exercises on the Korean Peninsula. The allies claim the drills are defensive and routine. North Korea is opposed to the exercises which it claims are a rehearsal for an invasion. The drills are due to last until late April.
North and South Korea are in a technical state of war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
kbd/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)