SEOUL – North Korea Sunday test-fired a short-range missile off its east coast, its fourth in two days, despite pleas from South Korea and the U.N. chief to halt the launches at a time of high tensions.
The guided missile was fired into the Sea of Japan on Sunday afternoon, a defense ministry spokesman said without elaborating.
On Saturday the North fired three short-range missiles off its east coast, apparently as part of a military drill.
The North’s launches of short-range missiles are not unusual but come at a time of heightened alert on the peninsula, following Pyongyang’s February nuclear test, which sparked tougher U.N. sanctions.
Angered by the sanctions and by a joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise, the North for weeks threatened nuclear or conventional attacks on Seoul and Washington.
The South and its U.S. ally had earlier been watching for any test by the North of medium-range Musudan missiles. But a U.S. defense official said early in May the two midrange missiles had been moved from their launch site.
However South Korea’s unification ministry, which handles cross-border relations, said the launches of short-range missiles also pose threats to the region and should be stopped immediately.
“We find it deplorable that the North does not stop provocative actions such as the launch of guided missiles yesterday,” said unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Seok, before the latest exercise.
“We call on the North to take responsible actions for our sake and for the sake of the international community.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki Moon, speaking in Moscow, also called for Pyongyang to “refrain from” further missile tests. He said it was time for it to resume talks with the international community and reduce tensions.
The U.S. State Department urged Pyongyang to exercise restraint, without specifically commenting on the launches.
It was unclear what type of missiles were fired Saturday and Sunday.
Seoul military officials quoted by Yonhap news agency said they may be KN-02 surface-to-surface weapons with a range of up to 160 km, or 300 mm rockets fired from a multiple launcher.
Park Yong Ok, a former South Korean deputy defense minister, described the short-range missile launches as an act of “desperation” by the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, after his country’s recent threats met a strong response from Seoul and Washington.
U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun Hye, at a summit this month, vowed to offer no concessions in dealing with Pyongyang.
“Such a stern response must have baffled the North greatly and Kim Jong Un . . . must have turned to missile tests to seek ways out of this deadlock,” Park said in a TV interview Sunday.
Seoul said efforts to present a united front were jeopardized by last week’s “unhelpful” surprise visit to North Korea by an adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo at a time when the U.S., South Korea and Japan are trying to preserve a united front against Pyongyang.
Abe said Sunday he would seek talks with Pyongyang to try to settle the issue over the North’s past abductions of Japanese, without risking his country’s alliance with Washington and Seoul.
Apart from security matters, inter-Korean relations have been soured by the suspension of operations at a jointly run industrial estate.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex, established just north of the border in 2004 as a rare symbol of cooperation, fell victim to the two months of elevated military tensions.
The North barred South Korean access to the zone and pulled out its own 53,000 workers early last month. Seoul withdrew the last of its nationals early this month.
When the South Koreans left, they loaded up cars with bundles of products, but were still forced to leave much stock behind.
The North last week rejected the South’s call for talks on removing goods from the complex, calling it “a crafty ploy” to deflect blame for the suspension of operations.
“It is very regrettable that the North denigrates our offer for talks . . . and shifts blame for the suspension of the Kaesong complex to us,” unification ministry spokesman Kim said Sunday, urging Pyongyang to come forward for talks as soon as possible.