SEOUL: North Korea fired two projectiles, possibly missiles, into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan on Thursday (Oct 31), according to the Japanese coast guard and South Korea's military.
The first of two "unidentified projectiles" was fired on Thursday at 4.35pm local time from South Phyongan Province, in the centre of the country, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a series of statements. A second projectile was detected at 4.38pm.
The projectiles travelled an estimated 370km and reached an altitude of 90km, the JCS said, calling them "short range".
Japan's coast guard said that they appeared to be ballistic missiles, and landed outside Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 370km 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."
It also warned vessels in the Sea of Japan to be aware of missiles from North Korea.
TIMING OF LAUNCH A DEPARTURE FROM PREVIOUS TESTS
The American air base at Misawa, 1,127km north of Tokyo, posted a "real world missile alert" and urged personnel to seek shelter, before later issuing an "all clear".
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.
South Korea's National Security Council held an emergency meeting after the launch on Thursday, and expressed its concern about what it called "short-range projectiles."
"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.
The JCS called on North Korea to stop the launches because they were "unhelpful" for reducing tensions on the peninsula.
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.
It is the latest in a series of launches by the North but the first since Oct 2, when it fired a sea-launched missile in a provocative move - a submarine-based missile capability would change the military balance.
The North then walked away from working-level nuclear talks with the US in Sweden, saying it was disappointed at the lack of "new and creative" solutions offered by Washington.
Pyongyang is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes, which it says it needs to defend against a possible US invasion.
It is demanding the easing of the measures and has repeatedly urged Washington to come forward with a new offer by the end of this year.
In a statement on Sunday, a senior North Korean official said it would be a mistake for the United States to ignore that deadline.
On Sunday as well, the North's state media carried a statement from Kim Yong Chol - previously the North's counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - accusing Washington of seeking to "isolate and stifle the DPRK in a more crafty and vicious way than before".
He lauded the "close personal relations" between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, but warned: "There is a limit to everything."
North Korea has also accused the United States and South Korea of continuing hostile policies, including joint military drills.
American officials have played down recent tests, saying they were short-range missiles.
Talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled since the two men's Hanoi summit broke down without an agreement in February.
The meeting had been intended to build on their high-profile first summit in Singapore last year, when Kim signed a vague pledge to work towards "denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".
The latest launch displayed Pyongyang's frustration over the lack of progress in nuclear talks, analysts say.
"The launch is a display of its warning to both Seoul and Washington that it can carry out more military activities unless the US comes up with a 'new method'," said Lim Eul-chul, professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University.
Contacts between the North and South have stalled since Hanoi and Pyongyang has repeatedly excoriated Seoul for joint military drills with Washington and not following through on inter-Korean agreements signed last year.
Kim last week inspected the Mount Kumgang complex which once hosted Southern tourists visiting the North - a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation - and ordered the demolition of Southern-built facilities.
Pyongyang this week refused Seoul's request for face-to-face meetings to discuss the issue.