North Korean Missile Barrage Prompts Air Raid Sirens in South

North Korea fired at least 24 missiles Wednesday, including at least three toward South Korean territory, an unprecedented barrage that triggered alerts on televisions in the South and air raid sirens on an island off the coast.
One of the North Korean missiles fell into waters just 57 kilometers east of Sokcho, a coastal tourist city in South Korea’s northeast, according to South Korea’s military.
Another missile landed 167 kilometers from Ulleung County, a sparsely populated island region off South Korea’s east coast.
The third fell in international waters just 26 kilometers south of the de facto inter-Korean sea border, officials said.
North Korea has fired over 50 ballistic missiles this year — a record high — but until today none had been launched toward South Korean territory or resulted in public air raid alerts.
In response, South Korea’s military said its warplanes launched three missiles north of the de facto sea border to demonstrate South Korea’s “capability and readiness to strike the enemy with precision.”
It is the first time since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War for either country to send missiles across the Northern Limit Line, according to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense.
In response to the North’s launches, South Korea’s transport ministry said it closed some air routes off its east coast until at least Thursday morning.
The developments further raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where both sides have increased displays of military strength.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the North’s launches were “effectively a violation of our territory” and ordered swift measures “to ensure North Korea pays a clear price,” according to a statement from his office.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada called the launches “utterly unacceptable.” Tokyo officials say they have lodged a complaint to North Korea via diplomatic channels in Beijing.
In a statement, the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command said North Korea’s launches did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies but highlighted Pyongyang’s “reckless behavior.”
North Korea fired the missiles in five rounds throughout the day, according to summaries shared by South Korean and Japanese defense officials and media reports. Around midday, the North also launched over 100 artillery shells into a sensitive buffer zone near the sea border on the east coast, Seoul officials said.
Perhaps most provocatively, one of the missiles was on a trajectory toward Ulleung, a remote, volcanic island off South Korea’s east coast. While the missile landed well short of the island, it triggered loud sirens there for about 2-3 minutes just before 9:00 a.m.
Residents did not initially know it was an air raid warning, reported South Korea’s JTBC broadcaster.
On televisions throughout the country, some broadcasts were interrupted at 8:55 a.m. to alert residents about the launches.
Such alerts are highly unusual in South Korea, where North Korean missile launches are hardly mentioned in newscasts.
The launches come as South Korea mourns the deaths of at least 156 mostly young people who were crushed to death Saturday in a crowd surge during Halloween celebrations.

North Korea has not offered condolences over the incident.
Dangerous spiral
North and South Korea are stuck in a cycle of provocations, with each side blaming the other for raising tensions.
Earlier this month, the two Koreas exchanged warning shots at sea, after South Korea accused a North Korean commercial ship of crossing the border.
In response, the United States and South Korea have increased the size, frequency, and publicity of their joint military drills.
Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warns of a “spiral dynamic” in which both sides “will feel compelled to keep upping the ante.”
“This could be leading to a much more dangerous destination,” he told VOA.
North and South Korea remain in a technical state of war, since their 1950s conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.
Why North Korea is launching missiles
While North Korea appears intent on provoking a sense of crisis, to what end is not clear.
Pyongyang has long ratcheted up tensions in order to create leverage ahead of negotiations with the United States. But North Korea has consistently rejected recent U.S. and South Korean offers of dialogue. In September, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said there would be “absolutely no denuclearization, no negotiation and no bargaining chip to trade.”
North Korea’s strategy appears meant to compel international acceptance of its nuclear weapons program, “whether the U.S. recognizes its status rhetorically or not,” according to Chad O’Carroll, the Seoul-based founder of the NK News website, which focuses on North Korea.
“Seems it also wants to impose serious costs for the U.S. and ROK for renewed [military] exercises,” O’Carroll tweeted.
On Tuesday, North Korea warned for a second consecutive day that Washington and Seoul should halt military drills.

“Such military rashness and provocation can be no longer tolerated,” said Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Central Committee of North Korea’s Workers’ Party, in a statement posted to North Korean state media.
A day earlier, a North Korean foreign ministry official warned of “powerful follow-up measures” if the U.S.-South Korean drills do not stop.
South Korean and U.S. officials have for months warned that North Korea is in the final stages of preparations for what would be its seventh nuclear test since 2006.

On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price dismissed North Korea’s latest threats and repeated Washington’s long-time insistence that the joint military exercises were defensive in nature.
“Unfortunately, this seems to be the DPRK reaching for another pretext for provocations it has already undertaken, potentially for provocations that it might be planning to take in the coming days or coming weeks,” Price said.

Source: Voice of America

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