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Pyongyang fires SRBM toward South Korean territory

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Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korean fighters fired air-to-surface missiles into the North Korean side of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in response to North Korea's launch of a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) south of the NLL on Wednesday morning. The photo, captured from a video released by the South Korean Air Force, shows a F-15K fighter firing a SLAM-ER cruise missile after the North Korean missile launch. [REPUBLIC OF KOREA AIR FORCE]
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korean fighters fired air-to-surface missiles into the North Korean side of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in response to North Korea’s launch of a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) south of the NLL on Wednesday morning. The photo, captured from a video released by the South Korean Air Force, shows a F-15K fighter firing a SLAM-ER cruise missile after the North Korean missile launch. [REPUBLIC OF KOREA AIR FORCE]

North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile into the South Korean side of the East Sea for the first time on Tuesday morning as well as 16 other missiles of various types into waters off its eastern and western coasts, South Korea’s military said.

According to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the North first launched four short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) into the Yellow Sea at 6:51 a.m. from Chongju and Pihyon in North Pyongan Province, followed by three SRBMs into the East Sea at 8:51 a.m. from Wonsan, Kangwon Province.

One of those three landed on the South Korean side of the sea.

The landing of the SRBM south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which serves as the de facto inter-Korean maritime border, led South Korean fighter jets to fire three air-to-surface missiles into the North Korean side of the NLL, according to the JCS.

Detected by the South’s ballistic missile tracking radar system, the North Korean SRBM’s trajectory toward South Korea’s Ulleung Island prompted the Master Control and Reporting Center (MCRC) and National Civil Defense Alert Control Center to send air raid alerts at 8:55 a.m. urging the island’s residents to “take shelter underground immediately.”

While the North has launched missiles into the East Sea before, this is the first time it has fired a missile toward South Korean territory.

Sirens blared across Ulleung Island, sending residents running into basements and other shelters.

The state of alert was lifted at 9:08 a.m., after the SRBM landed in the sea 167 kilometers (103 miles) northwest of the island, but only 57 kilometers northeast of the South Korean coastal city of Sokcho and 34 kilometers outside the South’s territorial waters.

The missile did land inside South Korea’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), defined by international law as a maritime area in which a sovereign state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources.

Then, at 9:12 a.m., the North fired an additional 10 suspected surface-to-air missiles into the East Sea from Nakwon, Chongpyong, and Sinpo in South Hamgyong Province and into the Yellow Sea from Onchon and Hwajin-ri in South Pyongan and Kwa-il in South Hwanghae Province.

Defense officials said that the North also fired approximately 100 artillery rounds into the South Korean side of the sea at 1:27 p.m.

The JCS denounced North Korea’s first launch of a missile close to the South’s territorial waters since the division of the peninsula as a “rare and intolerable” act in a press release and vowed to “respond firmly to this provocation.”

The launches led South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to convene an emergency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on Wednesday morning, which was attended by National Security Advisor Kim Sung-han, Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Dae-ki, National Intelligence Service Director Kim Kyou-hyun, Foreign Minister Park Jin and Unification Minister Kwon Young-se, among others.

In a statement released after the meeting, the participants denounced the firing of a missile into an area so close to South Korean territory as an “unprecedented military provocation” and an act that “seriously threatens the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

The council not only blamed North Korea for violating the Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement by conducting ballistic and cruise missile launches and artillery firing drills but also characterized the North’s decision to carry out the missile launches during a national mourning period for victims of the Itaewon tragedy as a “clear” sign of Pyongyang’s lack of humanity.

The South Korean government has declared a period of national mourning until Nov. 5 over the deadly crowd crush Saturday night, in which at least 156 people were killed.

South Korea’s main parties on Wednesday also criticized the timing and nature of North Korea’s missile launches.

“They surely know that all South Korean people are mourning, but went through with another provocation anyway,” said Rep. Chung Jin-suk, the interim chief of the conservative People Power Party (PPP), said, calling North Korea an “incorrigible state.”

PPP spokesperson Park Jeong-ha described the North Korean missile launch as an act “tantamount to a direct attack on South Korea” and said the North will “pay the price.”

“We cannot accept any more of North Korea’s provocations, or a seventh nuclear test,” Park said.

“If such a situation arises, the combined forces of the United States and South Korea will sternly respond,” he added, calling on “the Kim Jong-un regime” to “pull itself together and make the right choices,” referring to the North’s leader.

The liberal Democratic Party (DP) also urged the North to halt its military provocations.

“We are enraged when we think about residents of Ulleung Island, who were terrorized after receiving an air raid alert and an evacuation order due to the North Korean provocation,” DP spokesperson An Ho-young said.

The North’s firing of a ballistic missile into the South Korean side of the NLL came shortly after a statement from an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman released Monday that warned of “more powerful follow-up measures” if the South and the United States “continuously persist in the grave military provocations.”

South Korea and the United States started a large joint air exercise dubbed Vigilant Storm on Monday, mobilizing more than 240 aircraft including F-35A stealth fighters, F-15K jets, and KF-16 jets from the South Korean Air Force and F-35B stealth fighters, EA-18 electronic warfare aircraft, KC-135 tankers and U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft from the U.S. military.

Seoul and Washington have argued such joint exercises are necessary to maintain and enhance their joint defensive posture and readiness in case of a North Korean attack or provocation.

A high-ranking South Korean presidential official said that the North was likely seeking to escalate tensions through multiple means and that Pyongyang had seized the allies’ joint air force exercise as an excuse to raise the heat on the peninsula.

But the official declined to specify what actions South Korea might take in case of a higher-level provocation by the North, such as a nuclear test, saying only that Seoul is discussing the matter internally as well as with Washington and Tokyo, and that its response could encompass military, economic, or diplomatic measures.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]