N Korea test-fires four short-range missiles into sea

February 28, 2014 - 6:05:57 am
SEOUL:  North Korea test-fired four short-range missiles into the sea yesterday, Seoul’s defence ministry said, in an apparent show of force to coincide with South Korea-US joint military exercises.

A ministry spokesman said the missiles, with an estimated range of around 200 kilometres, were fired off the east coast of North Korea.

“Our military will maintain tight vigilance in preparation for additional launches or any military provocation from the North,” the spokesman said.

It is not unusual for North Korea to carry out short-range missile tests and it has used them before to display its anger at the annual military exercises.

Observers said the tests were unlikely to trigger a significant rise in military tensions. “It seems fairly routine,” said Kim Yong-Hyun, an expert on North Korean affairs at Seoul’s Dongguk University. “It’s mainly about sending a message -- about the drills and also its anger over the recent UN report,” Kim said. 

A UN-mandated commission published a damning report earlier this month, detailing horrific human rights abuses in North Korea and concluding that they could comprise crimes against humanity.

Despite the start of the South Korea-US drills on Monday, which the North routinely condemns as rehearsals for invasion, relations between Seoul and Pyongyang are currently enjoying something of a thaw.

Pyongyang had initially insisted that the joint exercises be postponed until after the reunion finished on Tuesday. 

But Seoul refused and the North allowed the family gathering on its territory to go ahead as scheduled.

Dongguk University’s Kim said North Korea was experienced at calibrating its military provocations, and would probably stop at the short-range missile tests.

“I don’t think it will take any further steps and risk escalating tensions. Pyongyang is more interested in seeing some benefit from its compromise on the reunions,” he said.                                AFP