SEOUL -- North Korea test-launched two medium-range ballistic missiles early Wednesday off its east coast in its longest-range launch since 2012, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported, citing military sources.
The South Korean military said the missiles were launched just after 2:30 a.m. local time and flew for a little more than 400 miles. North Korea’s last launch with that range came in December 2012, when it successfully sent a satellite into orbit.
“Our government is intensifying monitoring of North Korea’s military and preparing for all possible outcomes,” Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, said in a morning news briefing, according to the Donga Ilbo newspaper.
“We call on North Korea to immediately cease all provocative behavior,” Kim said.
In recent weeks, North Korea has held intermittent firings of short-range artillery missiles, including a volley of 30 on Monday. Those missiles weren’t deemed to be much of a threat by South Korea or the U.S. due to their short range.
Wednesday’s launches violate a United Nations Security Council resolution that bans North Korea from long-range missile tests. The resolution was enacted in 2009 after North Korea’s second nuclear test.
Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of U.S. Forces Korea, said in Washington on Tuesday that he believes North Korea could have a long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland by 2024.
The annual Foal Eagle military exercises between the U.S. and South Korean militaries were underway in South Korea. A scaled-down version of the exercises is being held this year, with the apparent intention of being less provocative to North Korea.
This year’s drills do not include an aircraft carrier or B-52 bombers. A separate exercise dubbed the Key Resolve training took place previously and consisted almost entirely of computer simulations. The Foal Eagle field training exercises are to run until April 18.
Though the exercises are defensive in nature, Pyongyang objects to them, describing them as rehearsals for an invasion of North Korea. Approximately 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.
The latest missile launches come on the four-year anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, in which 46 people died. Seoul attributes the sinking to a North Korean torpedo attack; North Korea has denied any involvement.
Signs of a possible detente had been evident in recent months after years of unfriendly relations on the Korean peninsula. For the first time since 2010, the two sides in February held reunions of family members divided by the Korean War. However, after the reunions, Pyongyang rejected the South’s offer to hold talks on holding the family meetings on a regular basis.