North Korea fired at least 10 missiles off its eastern and western coasts on Wednesday morning, with one landing in waters further south than ever before, according to the South Korean military.
The unprecedented number of launches was confirmed after earlier reports of three short-range ballistic missiles fired off North Korea’s eastern coast, leading to a rare air raid warning being issued on a remote South Korean island.
The types of the rest of the missiles have yet to be confirmed.
One of the earlier confirmed missiles landed less than 60km (37 miles) off the South’s coast, Seoul’s military said.
“The North Korean missile launch is very unusual and unacceptable as it fell close to South Korean territorial waters south of the Northern Limit Line [a disputed inter-Korean maritime border] for the first time” since the peninsula was divided, Kang Shin-chul, director of operations for the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
The launches came just hours after Pyongyang demanded that the United States and South Korea stop large-scale military exercises, saying such “military rashness and provocation can be no longer tolerated”.
The initial launch was also reported by Japan’s Coast Guard, which said it had received no reports of injuries or damage.
South Korea’s JCS said it issued an air raid warning for the island of Ulleung around the time of the missile launch.
It said at least one of the missiles landed 26km south of the Northern Limit Line, another missile landed 57km from the South Korean city of Sokcho, on the east coast, and another 167km from Ulleung.
“Our military can never tolerate North Korea’s provocative act and will sternly respond to it in close cooperation with the US,” the JCS said in a statement.
Yonhap news agency quoted an Ulleung county official as saying that employees evacuated to a basement when the warning sounded.
South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol convened a national security council emergency meeting in response to the launches.
Japan’s defence minister Yasukazu Hamada said: “North Korea has recently launched ballistic missiles in rapid succession and has unilaterally escalated its persistent provocations. North Korea’s actions threaten the peace and security of our country, the region, and the international community, and are absolutely unacceptable.”
On Monday the United States and South Korea began Vigilant Storm, one of their largest combined military air drills, with hundreds of warplanes from both sides staging mock attacks 24 hours a day. The exercises — involving more than 240 aircraft, including advanced stealth jets — were the first major drills of their kind in five years.
A day later, Pyongyang warned Washington and Seoul, calling the exercises a provocation that may draw “more powerful follow-up measures”.
In a statement, Pak Jong Chon, a secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party who is considered a close confidant of leader Kim Jong-un, called the ongoing military drills between South Korea and the US “aggressive and provocative.”
Pyongyang has repeatedly claimed the military manoeuvres are rehearsals for invasion.
North Korea has test-fired a record number of missiles this year, including a pair of short-range ballistic missiles on Friday, and has said that a recent flurry of launches were in response to the allied drills.
Intelligence and military officials in South Korea and the US have been warning that the North is also preparing to carry out its first nuclear weapon test since 2017.
Reutersand Associated Press contributed to this report