TOKYO/SEOUL, Nov 3 (Reuters) – North Korea fired a series of ballistic missiles on Thursday, including a failed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), prompting a warning for residents in central and northern Japan to seek shelter.
Despite the government’s initial warning that the missile had landed over Japan, Tokyo later said it was false.
South Korean and Japanese officials said the missile may be an ICBM, North Korea’s longest-range weapon, designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the other side of the planet.
South Korean officials believe the ICBM failed in flight, Yonhap news agency reported, without elaborating. A spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry declined to confirm the alleged failure.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the government had lost track of the missile over the Sea of Japan, prompting him to revise his announcement that it had flown over Japan.
Yoji Koda, a retired vice admiral and former commander of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force fleet, said the loss of radar tracking on the projectile indicated a failed launch.
“It means that at some point in the flight path there was a problem with the rocket and it actually fell apart,” he said.
Koda added that although the warhead landed in the river between the Korean peninsula and Japan, the high-speed debris still passed over Japan.
North Korea has failed several ICBM tests this year, according to South Korean and US officials.
North Korea also launched at least two short-range missiles.
The launches came a day after North Korea fired at least 23 missiles, its most in a single day, including one that landed off the coast of South Korea for the first time.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman strongly condemned North Korea’s missile launch as “deplorable and immoral” in a phone call on Thursday, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
Residents of Japan’s Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures were warned to seek shelter indoors after the first outbreak on Thursday, according to a report by the J-Alert emergency broadcasting system.
Hamada told reporters, “we detected a missile that had the potential to fly over Japan, thus triggering the J Alert, but after investigating the flight, we confirmed that it did not fly over Japan.”
The first rocket flew to an altitude of about 2,000 kilometers and a distance of 750 kilometers, he said. This type of flight is called “high trajectory”, in which the missile is launched high into space so as not to fly over neighboring countries.
“North Korea’s repeated missile launches are an outrage and absolutely unforgivable,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in a few minutes’ briefing.
About half an hour after the launch was first reported, the Japanese Coast Guard said the missile had landed.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea said that a long-range missile was launched from the vicinity of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
About an hour after the first launch, the South Korean military and the Japanese coast guard reported a second and third launch from North Korea. South Korea said both short-range missiles were fired from Kaecheon, north of Pyongyang.
After North Korea launched Wednesday, including a missile that landed less than 60 kilometers (40 miles) off the coast of South Korea, South Korean President Yun Suk-yeol called the flights “territorial aggression” and Washington called them “reckless.” condemned.
South Korea issued rare warnings of airstrikes and fired missiles in response after Wednesday’s strike.
The launch has led to inconsistent and sometimes conflicting reports from Japanese and South Korean officials. The US military, which has some of the most advanced tracking technology in the region, said only that it was “aware” of the launches, without giving details.
Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Japan and South Korea have a history of misrepresenting North Korean missile incidents.
“No other country has the highly reliable and desirable space-based sensors that the United States has that would allow detection of missile stages when they are fired.”
The launches came after Pyongyang demanded the United States and South Korea halt large-scale military exercises, saying such “hasty and military provocations will no longer be tolerated.”
He previously said that recently the rocket launch and other military activities were in protest of these exercises.
The allies conducted one of the largest air drills ever, with hundreds of South Korean and US warplanes, including F-35 fighters, flying similar missions around the clock.
Seoul and Washington say these exercises are defensive and necessary to counter threats from the North.
On October 4, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years, warning its residents to take cover. It was the farthest North Korea has ever fired a missile.
Reporting by Kantoro Komiya, Tim Kelly, Chang-Ran Kim and David Dolan in Tokyo and Hyunhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul; Written by Josh Smith; Edited by Chris Reese, Lincoln Feast and Jerry Doyle
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