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(4th LD) N. Korea test-fires three ballistic missiles after THAAD decision

All Headlines 17:00 July 19, 2016

(ATTN: REWRITES headline and lead, RECASTS throughout, ADDS defense minister's comments in paras 10-12, global condemnation of missile launches in paras 13-15. ADDS more background in last para)
By Choi Kyong-ae

SEOUL, July 19 (Yonhap) -- North Korea test-fired three ballistic missiles on Tuesday in an apparent "armed protest" against South Korea's decision to deploy an advanced U.S. anti-missile system in the country to deal with increasing threats from the communist country.

The three ballistic missiles, two Scuds and one Rodong, were launched from Hwangju, North Hwanghae Province, between 5:45 a.m. and 6:40 a.m., with two flying some 500 to 600 kilometers across the country before crashing into the East Sea, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement. The trajectory of the third missile still needs to be determined, it said.

"Given the missile launches come after the decision (early this month by Seoul and Washington) to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the southern county of Seongju, it can be interpreted as Pyongyang's clear message that it can attack Seongju and any other part of South Korea," JCS spokesman Jeon Ha-kyu said in a press briefing.

The launches are in line with Pyongyang's earlier threats made last week when it warned of taking "physical counter-action" after the two allies announced the deployment of a THAAD battery in South Korea by the end of 2017 to better deal with evolving nuclear and missile threats from the North, Jeon said.

The Ministry of National Defense said it is still in the process of analyzing what kinds of missiles were fired and the exact altitude of their flight. "When the answers are determined, the ministry will provide the details," he said.

The United States Strategic Command said in a statement that the North launched two Scud tactical ballistic missiles and then one Rodong medium-range ballistic missile. The missile launches "didn't pose a threat to North America," it said.

Tuesday's launches are the latest in a series of missile provocations, including the firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) earlier this month. Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and launched a long-range rocket the following month.

The defense ministry said the range of the missiles launched on Tuesday is enough to reach all of South Korea, including the far southern port city of Busan.

"We are closely watching any military moves from the North and are fully prepared for additional missile launches," the spokesman said.

In an emergency question and answer session held at the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Defense Minister Han Min-koo said the North's missile launches are aimed at fueling opposition against a THAAD in the South.

He then called the missile launches a "sort of protest" against the planned THAAD deployment.

Pyongyang's latest provocation, meanwhile, drew swift condemnation from all sides as it once again violated U.N. sanctions that prevent it from firing off ballistic missiles.

The JCS strongly condemned North Korea's "rash" actions, saying such a move could pose a significant threat to the country's security and the safety of its people.

The U.S. Pentagon criticized North Korea's continued missile tests, saying they violate U.N. Security Council resolutions explicitly banning its launches using ballistic missile technology. Japan's Defense Ministry said the launches could ruin the peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Besides the latest launch, the North test-fired an SLBM on July 9 that followed on the footsteps of six intermediate-range Musudan missile tests carried out from April to June.

Scuds have a range of 500 to 700 km and are considered to be shorter-range ballistic missiles compared with Rodong missiles, with a range of 1,300-1,500 km. Rodong missiles are capable of striking as far away as Japan. Musudan and the long-range Taepodong missiles each are estimated to have a range of about 3,000 km and over 6,000 km, respectively.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr
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