North Korea fired two projectiles into the ocean Monday, according to South Korean officials, defying warnings from the United Nations to refrain from escalating regional tensions after a series of launches over the weekend.
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed the firings from two locations on North Korea’s east coast, Agence France-Presse reported, adding that it was unclear whether the tests involved guided missiles or rockets from multiple launchers.
“North Korea launched two projectiles on Monday—one in the morning and the other in the afternoon," a JCS spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Monday’s launches were the sixth by North Korea in three days, after firing three missiles on Saturday and one on Sunday, all of which fell into the Sea of Japan—also known as the East Sea.
Some reports referred to the launched projectiles as missiles.
The two projectiles fired on Monday followed similar trajectories as the four previous launches over the weekend, officials at both the JCS and South Korean Defense Ministry said.
The weekend launches had drawn condemnation from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who warned Sunday of a “dangerous escalation” on the Korean Peninsula and urged Pyongyang to refrain from further actions.
Ban called for North Korea to return to negotiations in order to lower tensions in the region, which he said had heightened the risk of dangerous miscalculation.
South Korea on Monday urged North Korea to stop firing missiles, saying that the launchings were raising tensions, regardless of whether they were intended to test new weapons or to demonstrate Pyongyang’s firepower.
The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Monday quoted an information bulletin by Pyongyang’s Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea which angrily responded to criticism of what it called a “regular military exercise to bolster up the country's defense capability.”
It dismissed calls to end its launches as “another unpardonable challenge to [North Korea] and an undisguised provocation driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula to an extreme phase.”
North Korea has accused South Korea and the U.S. of escalating tensions on the peninsula following a series of small- and large-scale joint military drills in recent months which have featured nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
Test launches of short-range missiles by North Korea are fairly routine. The North last launched two such missiles into the sea in March.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, told RFA’s Korean Service that the recent launches were “nothing unusual.”
“The North Koreans have done it many times in the past, and are likely to do it again and again,” he said.
“Like any military force, the North Korean armed forces need to test their weapons and train their soldiers.”
He said that short-range missiles with conventional warheads “do not constitute any significant threat” and that the tests were likely not an attempt to draw attention from Washington or Seoul.
“If they need more tension, they are likely to resort to their old tactics of tension-building: bellicose rhetoric and, perhaps, long-range missile launches and nuclear tests,” Lankov said.
“Frankly, this seems to be much ado about nothing.”
Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket in December and conducted its third nuclear test in February.
Both tests were in violation of international sanctions that ban North Korea from developing missile or nuclear technology, prompting the U.N. Security Council to adopt even tougher measures against the country in March.
Pyongyang began issuing vitriolic war rhetoric after the new sanctions were imposed, raising ominous prospects of a nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea has launched five long-range missiles or rockets over the past seven years and last December placed a satellite in orbit.
Pyongyang claimed the satellite was part of peaceful research, but critics said the launch amounted to a banned ballistic missile test that marked a major advance for the North's illicit nuclear weapons program.
Following Monday’s launches, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called for the full implementation of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions against its ally North Korea and called for dialogue in order to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference on Monday that North Korea had not “formally” breached any U.N. Security Council resolutions by test-firing short-range missiles over the last few days.
But he urged calm for the region and called for the resumption of aid-for-disarmament talks between the two Koreas, United States, China, Russia and Japan.