Launches follow Pyongyang warning over ongoing military exercises between South Korea and the United States.
South Korea has issued a rare air raid warning for residents of an eastern island after North Korea launched three ballistic missiles into the sea, including one that landed less than 60km (37 miles) off South Korea’s coast.
The Wednesday morning launch, which was detected by the South Korean military and Japanese coast guard, came hours after Pyongyang demanded the United States and South Korea stop ongoing large-scale military drills, saying such “military rashness and provocation can be no longer tolerated”.
The missiles were launched from the area around Wonsan on North Korea’s eastern coast, and South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that it issued an air raid warning for the island of Ulleung at about the same time.
The JCS said at least one of the missiles landed 26km (16 miles) south of the Northern Limit Line, a disputed inter-Korean maritime border. The missile landed just 57km (35 miles) from the South Korean city of Sokcho on the east coast, and 167km (104 miles) from Ulleung.
The Yonhap news agency in South Korea quoted an official on the island saying that employees took shelter in a basement when the air raid warning for Ulleung was broadcast on national television.
North Korea has carried out an unprecedented number of weapons tests this year, and there are expectations it may soon resume nuclear testing.
Pyongyang argues its weapons are necessary for ‘self defence’ and that recent tests are a warning to Washington and Seoul over joint military drills that it views as an invasion rehearsal.
This week’s exercises, dubbed Vigilant Storm, began on Monday and are some of the two allies’ largest, involving about 240 warplanes from both sides staging mock attacks 24 hours a day.
The White House says such drills are part of the US’s routine training schedule with South Korea.
“We reject the notion that they serve as any sort of provocation. We have made clear that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK and call on them to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy,” White House National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on Tuesday, using North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The DPRK continues to not respond. At the same time, we will continue to work closely with our allies and partners to limit the North’s ability to advance its unlawful weapons programmes and threaten regional stability.”