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By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, May 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired what were believed to be two short-range missiles on Thursday, South Korea's military said, just five days after the communist nation launched a barrage of projectiles into the East Sea.
The projectiles were fired from the northwestern area of Kusong in an easterly direction, one of them at 4:29 p.m. and the other at 4:39 p.m., and flew about 420 kilometers and 270 km, respectively, with their altitude reaching around 50 km, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, adding they splashed into the East Sea.
"Our military has strengthened surveillance and vigilance in case of a further launch from North Korea, and has maintained a full-fledged posture in close coordination with the United States," the JCS said.
The JCS had earlier said the projectiles were fired from the Sino-ri area, where the North has a base holding medium-range Nodong missiles. Kusong is about 40 km north of Sino-ri, officials said.
The JCS did not elaborate further and did not specify exactly what types the missiles were, only saying that the South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing details of the projectiles.
Shortly after the first firing, Japan said no North Korean projectile had landed in its territorial waters.
"At the moment, we don't see any situation that would immediately impact on Japan's security," its Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
From the Kusong area, North Korea last fired a new mid-to-long-range ballistic missile, the Hwasong-12, in May 2017. One week later, it launched the ground-to-ground Pukguksong-2 missile, also known as a KN-15.
Experts said what Pyongyang launched Thursday could have either been a Scud-type ballistic missile or a new type of ground-to-ground Iskander missile identical to that test-fired last week.
On Saturday, the North launched a volley of projectiles, including what it claimed were newly developed "tactical guided weapons" off the east coast, in an apparent show of frustration over the stalled nuclear talks with the United States.
Though some experts said the tactical guided weapons are believed to be short-range, ground-to-ground ballistic missiles, South Korea's military has said it cannot determine if the North test-fired ballistic missiles as of now.
If confirmed as missile launches, it would mark the first such firing since November 2017, when the North test-fired the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Such launches constitute a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from all kinds of ballistic missile fire.
The latest launches could also undercut what U.S. President Donald Trump has touted as his greatest accomplishment: the end of weapons tests. Since November 2017, Kim Jong-un has declared a moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests, though launching short-range missiles does not renege on its self-declared moratorium.
South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae expressed serious concern about the launches, saying they are "not helpful at all" to efforts to improve inter-Korean relations and ease military tensions on the peninsula.
Chung Eui-yong, head of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office, is "keeping close tabs" on the situation, communicating with the dfeense ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) via video conference, at the national crisis management center, according to its spokesperson, Ko Min-jung.
Despite Saturday's launches, Seoul and Washington have given measured responses without denouncing the act as a provocation in an apparent effort to keep the negotiating process with Pyongyang alive. The two sides have also been talking about providing food aid to the North.
It remains to be seen whether Thursday's firing will affect the food aid plans.
The latest launches also coincided with a visit to Seoul by the U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, and annual trilateral defense talks between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.
Biegun met with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, earlier Thursday, and is scheduled to hold meetings with other top officials, including Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, on Friday.
Nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been stalled since the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February collapsed due to a failure to bridge gaps over the scope of Pyongyang's denuclearization and Washington's sanctions relief.
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