North Korea fires multiple short-range ballistic missiles, Seoul says

FILE PHOTO: The truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea fired a number of short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast on Friday, South Korea's military said, a day after the U.S. and South Korea conducted joint drills with stealth fighter jets simulating air combat.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff condemned the launch as a provocation. It said the projectiles were fired from the east coast town of Wonsan and flew about 300 km (186 miles) before landing in the sea.

Citing a government official, Japan's public broadcaster NHK also reported that a short-range missile appeared to have been launched and had already fallen.

North Korea has launched ballistic and cruise missiles as well as tactical rockets in recent months, describing them as part of a program to upgrade its defensive capabilities.

South Korea's military did not specify the latest type of weapon, but the North's state media has reported that its military has been testing multiple launch rocket systems that are being upgraded.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un viewed the testing of 600 mm "super-large" multiple rocket launchers and 240 mm multiple launch rockets in recent weeks and also visited production facilities, state media reported.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have increased since the North last year scrapped a 2018 pact aimed at de-escalating tensions near the military border drawn up under a truce ending the 1950-53 Korean War and then labelled the South "enemy No. 1".

Earlier on Friday, the powerful sister of North Korea's leader, Kim Yo Jong, said its tactical weapons were intended solely as a deterrent against South Korean military aggression, while again denying that Pyongyang was exporting the weapons.

U.S. and South Korean officials have accused the North of shipping weapons to Russia to help Moscow replenish stocks for use in its war against Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the accusation.

Friday's missile launches come at the same time as a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Chinese northeastern city of Harbin.

Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping criticised Washington and its allies on Thursday for what the leaders called "intimidation in the military sphere" against North Korea at a meeting in Beijing.

South Korea's air force has said U.S. and South Korean stealth fighters conducted "intense" joint exercises on Thursday in the central region to test and enhance offensive and defensive maneuverability.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Satoshi Sugiyama in TokyoEditing by Ed Davies and Kim Coghill)