A North Korean missile landed near South Korean waters for the first time, prompting Seoul to respond with its own air-to-ground missiles, the first time both countries fired missiles off each other’s coast, the first time that has happened since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953.
The North Korean missile, one of at least 10 fired on Wednesday morning, November 2, was detected by South Korea’s military and the Japanese coast guard and landed less than 60km (37 miles) off the South’s coast.
A few hours later South Korea’s military said it fired three air-to-ground missiles into the sea towards the north of the two countries’ maritime border. The Transport Ministry said some air routes along the east coast had also been closed to commercial aircraft while residents had been told to evacuate.
The latest escalation in tensions on the Korean peninsula comes 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”.
This week’s exercises, named 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.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said one of the North Korean missiles landed 26km (16 miles) south of the Northern Limit Line, which serves as an unofficial maritime border between the two Koreas.
The launch was “very unusual and absolutely unacceptable”, the JCS said, adding that it would respond “decisively”.
It was one of three short-range missiles launched from the area around Wonsan on North Korea’s eastern coast at about 8.51am (23:51 GMT), according to the JCS and an air raid warning for the island of Ulleung was issued shortly afterwards.
The missile landed 57km (35 miles) from the South Korean city of Sokcho on the east coast, and 167km (104 miles) from Ulleung, with an air raid warning for the island broadcast on national television.
President Yoon Suk-yeol convened a meeting of the National Security Council and condemned the “unprecedented” launches.
Sending a missile south of the NLL was “tantamount to territorial intrusion”, he was quoted as saying in a statement following the NSC meeting with his office promising a “swift and firm response” so North Korea “pays the price for provocation”.