(ATTN: ADDS more details in 4th para)
SEOUL, May 31 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired what it claims to be a "space launch vehicle" southward Wednesday, the South Korean military said, after it unveiled a plan for the launch earlier this week despite international criticism and warning.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from Tongchang-ri on the North's west coast at 6:29 a.m., and the projectile flew over the waters far west of the South's border island of Baengnyeong. The launch did not affect the greater Seoul area, it added.
"Our military is trying to confirm whether it flew normally," the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. "While elevating its vigilance posture, our military, in close cooperation with the United States, is maintaining a full readiness posture."
A military source said that the vehicle disappeared from radar before reaching a location where the North said its part would fall. "The military is analyzing whether it exploded midair or crashed," the source said on condition of anonymity.
The North notified Japan and the International Maritime Organization of its plan earlier this week to launch a satellite between May 31 and June 11 despite criticism that it would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology.
Soon after the launch, President Yoon Suk Yeol called a security meeting to discuss it, his office said.
On Tuesday, Ri Pyong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, made the launch plan official, defending its pursuit of the satellite and other reconnaissance means as "indispensable" to cope with "dangerous military acts" of the U.S. and South Korea.
The North has been striving to secure the space-based reconnaissance asset as part of key defense projects unveiled at the eighth congress of its ruling party in early 2021.
Observers said that the North appears intent to secure intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets as it is far behind the allies in ISR capabilities despite its focus on developing an array of formidable weapons systems, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles and tactical nuclear arms.
In the runup to the launch, South Korea "strongly" warned that it will make Pyongyang pay "due prices" should the launch go ahead.
The chief nuclear envoys of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan also warned the North would face a "stern, unified" response from the international community.
The rocket launch marks the North's first such provocation since it fired what it claimed to be a Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile on April 13.
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