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North Korea Just Fired Another Couple of Missiles at Nothing in Particular

Kim Jong-un's forces launched a ballistic missile that flew into the sea off its eastern coast early Friday morning. Then it fired another that might have fallen apart.

by VICE News and Reuters
Mar 18 2016, 1:15am

Photo via KCNA

Read and watch more about North Korea in "March Madness," a VICE News special section on the Hermit Kingdom.

North Korea's annual March madness saw its latest blast of firepower in the early hours of Friday morning, when Kim Jong-un's forces launched a ballistic missile that flew into the sea off its eastern coast, as the isolated state stepped up its defiance of tough new sanctions.

Then it fired another.

After the first launch, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the missile was likely a medium-range Rodong-missile. It would mark North Korea's first test of a medium-range missile capable of reaching Japan since 2014.

The first missile was launched from north of Pyongyang, the capital, flying across the peninsula and into the sea, the South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

The second projectile launched soon after the first and from the same region. It disappeared from radar at an altitude of about 17 km, the South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. Further analysis was needed to determine the nature of the second projectile, it said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the second projectile might have disintegrated mid-air.

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South Korea did not confirm the type of the missiles. But 800 km was likely beyond the range of most short-range missiles in the North's arsenal. The North's Rodong missile has an estimated maximum range of 1,300 km, according to the South's defense ministry.

The bellicose display comes amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula after the North rejected sanctions that the United Nations Security Council imposed earlier in the month in response to a nuclear test conducted in January. The United States issued fresh sanctions this week.

After the first launch, a US official told Reuters in Washington that it appeared to be a medium-range missile fired from a road-mobile launcher.

The US State Department said in a statement it was closely monitoring the situation and urged North Korea to focus on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.

Japan quickly condemned the launch, lodging a protest with North Korea through its embassy in Beijing, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament.

"Japan strongly demands North Korea to exercise self-restraint and will take all necessary measures, such as warning and surveillance activity, to be able to respond to any situations," Abe said.

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Last week, the North fired two short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast and Kim Jong-un ordered more nuclear weapons tests and missile tests to improve attack capability.

North Korea often fires missiles at periods of tension on the Korean peninsula or when it comes under pressure to curb its defiance and abandon its weapons programs.

New US sanctions on Pyongyang were issued on Wednesday aiming to expand its blockade by blacklisting individuals and entities that deal with the North's economy.

The North has also reacted angrily to annual joint military drills by US and South Korean troops that began on March 7, calling the exercises "nuclear war moves" and threatening to wipe out its enemies.

South Korea and US officials began discussions this month on deploying the advanced anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to the U.S. military in the South, despite Chinese and Russian objection.

Japan has previously said it was considering THAAD to beef up its defenses.

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North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in Jan. 6 and launched a long-range rocket on February 7 in defiance of existing UN Security Council resolutions.

On Wednesday, North Korea's supreme court sentenced a visiting American student to 15 years of hard labour for crimes against the state, a punishment Washington condemned as politically motivated.