SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Saturday launched three short-range guided missiles into the sea off the Korean Peninsula's east coast, drawing criticism from South Korea.
"North Korea fired three guided missiles, two in the morning and one in the afternoon, from its east coast toward a northeasterly direction," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said at a hurriedly called news briefing. "They appeared to have been short-range missiles rather than mid- to long-range ones like Musudan."
The launches were detected, one each at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 4 p.m., he said.
"A more detailed analysis will be needed but the missiles launched may be a modified anti-ship missile or the KN-02 surface-to-surface missile derived from the Soviet era SS-21 that has a range of about 120 kilometers," another Seoul official had said earlier, requesting anonymity.
If confirmed, Saturday's launches mark the third time that the communist country has fired off short-range missiles this year. Pyongyang let two short-range missiles off into the East Sea on Feb. 10, two days before its third nuclear test, and another two, presumed to be KN-02 missiles, on March 15.
"The South Korean military have beefed up monitoring on North Korea and are maintaining a high-level of readiness to deal with any risky developments to guard against possibilities of additional missile launches and other types of provocations," the spokesman said.
North Korea has not officially confirmed its latest missile launches.
Saturday's missile launches came about two weeks after Pyongyang withdrew two Musudan intermediate-range missiles it had deployed on its east coast in early April, along with medium-range Rodong missiles. They were deployed in an apparent move to counter joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises under way at that time.
The Musudan is estimated to have a range of up to 4,000 kilometers that could reach the U.S. territory of Guam, while Nodong with a reach of 1,500 kilometers can cover all of South Korea and parts of Japan.
The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said it has been closely watching the North's move to test-launch the missiles.
"All information has been shared real time between the presidential office and the defense ministry," Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Kim Haing said.
While South Korea was carefully monitoring the situation, it does not consider the North's latest missile launches a serious threat to its security, Kim added.
The ruling and opposition parties alike criticized the North's missile launches, calling them "serious" provocations.
"The international community will levy much tougher sanctions against North Korea for its continued absurd provocations. No compensations or benefits will be allowed if North Korea fails to show changes in its policy toward the right direction," said Min Hyun-joo, the spokeswoman of the ruling Saenuri Party.
"The missile launches put a damper on efforts for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and for dialogue," said Park Yong-jin, the spokesman of the main opposition Democratic Party.
Some experts and officials said the launch is likely part of a military exercise or a missile test, while others speculated that North Korea began to take the path of escalating tensions to draw attention from the United States and the international community.
"North Korea would resume provocative acts after it failed to find chances of bilateral talks with the U.S. around the time Seoul and Washington held the summit this month," Cha Doo-hyun, a military expert, said.
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