North Korea fired two projectiles, which Japanese authorities said appeared to be ballistic missiles, into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan on Thursday, according to the Japanese coast guard and South Korea’s military.
The two “unidentified projectiles" were fired Thursday afternoon from South Phyongan Province, in the centre of the country, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.
Japanese authorities said that they landed outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from land.
“Objects that appeared to be ballistic missiles were launched from North Korea," Japan’s defence ministry said in a statement. “They did not land within our territory."
The afternoon launch timing was a departure from this year’s string of tests, which usually took place around dawn.
It also occurred on the day that South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the funeral of his mother, who died on Tuesday.
In a message delivered via the border village of Panmunjom late on Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had expressed “deep condolences" and “consolation" over Moon’s loss, Moon’s office said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed military source who said that movements of transporter erector launchers (TEL), used to fire missiles, had been detected in North Korea. “Our military is maintaining a readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related developments in preparation for another launch," the JCS said in a statement after the launches on Thursday.
Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University, said the launches could be a so-called “running test fire" of a recently developed multiple-rocket system, with the aim of fine-tuning the system for full production.
Relations between the two Koreas have cooled since a flurry of personal meetings between Moon and Kim last year, and denuclearization negotiations between North Korea and the US appear stalled.
On Sunday, North Korea said there had been no progress in North Korea-US relations. Kim has set an end-of-the-year deadline for denuclearization talks with Washington, and in the Sunday statement a senior North Korean official said it would be a mistake for the US to ignore that deadline.