North Korea has fired two medium-range ballistic missiles days after leader Kim Jong-Un ordered further nuclear warhead and missile tests. The missiles both landed in the sea off the country's eastern coast.
US defense officials said they had tracked two launches, both believed to be medium-range Rodong missiles fired from road-mobile launch vehicles.
The first missile reported flew about 800 kilometers (500 miles) off the Korean Peninsula's eastern coast before landing in the East Sea, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. A ministry spokesman said that the first missile was launched from Sukchon in the country's southwest at 5:55 a.m. on March 18, 2015 (20:55 UTC March 17).
The second missile was fired about 20 minutes later, disappearing off radar early into its flight at an altitude of roughly 17 kilometers (10 miles). It originated from the same region near North Korea's west coast. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered his government to investigate the launch to confirm the safety of shipping in the splashdown zone.
Yonhap confirmed that the missiles likely were Rodong types, citing military sources. It added that the second projectile may have disintegrated midair.
The Rodong missile is a scaled up Scud variant with a maximum range of around 1,300 kilometers (800 miles).
Another missile had been tested a week ago. However, it has been two years since Rodong missiles were last tested, signaling an increase in hostilities on the Korean peninsula.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said earlier in the week that North Korea's provocative behavior reflected a "sense of crisis" in Pyongyang with its increasing diplomatic and economic isolation.
"If North Korea continues its provocations and confrontation with the international community and does not walk the path of change, it will walk the path of self-destruction," Park said.
The launch came amid heightened tensions, with the North remaining defiant in the face of the latest set of UN Security Council sanctions adopted in response to a nuclear test conducted in January. Ongoing South Korea-US military drills have exacerbated the situation, which the North sees as provocative rehearsals for an invasion.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Friday urged North Korea to abide by the UN resolutions, calling on Pyongyang to avoid doing anything to exacerbate tensions.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter criticized China, saying Beijing "could do a lot more" to influence North Korea's behavior. He added, however, that the US was "analyzing the results" of Friday's missile launches.
In response to the tests, Japan lodged a protest with North Korea through its embassy in Beijing. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Japanese parliament that Tokyo would take "all necessary measures, such as warning and surveillance activity, to be able to respond to any situations."
A UN Security Council meeting to discuss North Korea's missile launches was due to be held in the US on Friday afternoon.
ss/bw (AFP, Reuters, AP)