By Josh Smith and Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL, Nov 2 (Reuters) – A North Korean ballistic missile fell less than 60 kilometers off the coast of South Korea on Wednesday, the first time an apparent test landed near South Korean waters, prompting South Korea to issue unusual air raid warnings and launch missiles in protest.
The missile landed outside South Korea’s territorial waters but south of the northern boundary line, a disputed inter-Korean maritime border, in what South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called an “effective act of territorial invasion.”
South Korean warplanes fired three air-to-surface missiles into the sea north of the northern boundary line in response, the South’s military said. An official said the weapons used included an AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER, which is a US-made precision-attack weapon that can fly up to 270 kilometers with a 360kg warhead.
The South’s releases came after Yoon’s office promised a “swift and firm response” so that North Korea would “pay the price of provocation.”
The North Korean weapon was one of three short-range ballistic missiles fired from North Korea’s coastal area of Wonsan into the sea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff later said that up to 10 missiles of various types had been fired from North Korea’s east and west coasts and that at least one of the missiles fell 26 kilometers south of the Northern Limit Line, at 57 kilometers from the South Korean city of Sokcho, on the east coast, and 167 kilometers from the island of Ulleung, where air raid warnings were issued.
“We heard the siren around 8:55 a.m. and all of us who were in the building went down to the evacuation site in the basement,” an Ulleung county official told Reuters. “We stayed there until we went up at about 9:15 am after hearing that the shell had fallen into the high seas.”
A resident in the southern part of the island said they received no warning.
Nuclear-armed North Korea has tested a record number of missiles this year, and officials in Seoul and Washington say the North has completed technical preparations to carry out a nuclear weapon test for the first time since 2017.
The launches came just hours after Pyongyang demanded that the United States and South Korea cease large-scale military exercises, saying that “military recklessness and provocation can no longer be tolerated.”
Despite Yoon declaring a week of national mourning after more than 150 people were killed in a crowd in Seoul over the weekend, the United States and South Korea kicked off one of their biggest combined air drills on Monday. The exercises, dubbed “Storm Watcher,” involve hundreds of warplanes from both sides simulating attacks 24 hours a day.
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi, Choonsik Yoo, and Josh Smith; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Sakura Murakami in Tokyo; Spanish editing by Benjamín Mejías Valencia)