SEOUL, South Korea — Air raid sirens sounded on a South Korean island and residents there were evacuated to underground shelters after the north fired about a dozen missiles in its direction on Wednesday, at least one of which landed near the rivals’ tense sea border. South Korea responded quickly by conducting its own missile tests.
The launches came hours after North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons to get the US and South Korea to pay “the most terrible price in history” as it intensified its fiery rhetoric aimed at South Korean-American’s ongoing military exercises it considers an invasion rehearsal.
South Korea’s military said North Korea has launched more than 10 missiles of various types off the east and west coasts.
One of the missiles flew toward the South Korean island of Ulleung before finally landing at a location 104 miles northwest of the island. The South Korean military then issued an air raid alert on the island, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. South Korean media published photos showing islanders moving into underground shelters.
That missile’s landing site is also 26 miles from the rivals’ sea border. It is in international waters, but still far south of the extension of the land border. The South Korean military said it was the first time a North Korean missile has landed so close to the sea border since the partition of the countries in 1948.
“This is unprecedented and we will never tolerate it,” South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a separate statement.
Later Wednesday, South Korea said it has conducted air-to-surface missile tests to show its determination to crack down on North Korean provocations. The South Korean military said its fighter jets fired three precision-guided missiles at sites near the rivals’ eastern sea border.
“North Korea fires missiles in a way that sets off air-raid sirens and appears to threaten South Koreans to pressure their government to change policy,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “North Korea’s growing military capabilities and testing are worrisome, but making concessions on alliance cooperation or nuclear recognition would make matters worse.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff previously identified three of the North Korean weapons launched as “short-range ballistic missiles” fired from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan to the north, including the one that struck near the maritime border.
North Korean short-range weapons are designed to attack key facilities in South Korea, including US military bases there.
During an emergency meeting with top security officials, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered officials to take swift, unspecified steps to allow North Korea to suffer the consequences of its provocation. He said he would view the landing of the North Korean missile near the border as “a virtual violation of (our) territorial waters.”
The barrage of missile tests across the north came as South Korea went into official mourning in the wake of the Halloween party that killed more than 150 people in Seoul in the country’s worst disaster in years.
At the South Korean emergency meeting, “the participants complained about the provocations committed during our national mourning period and pointed out that this clearly demonstrated the nature of the North Korean government,” the South Korea presidential office said.
Hostility in the Korean peninsula has been running high in recent months, with North Korea testing a range of nuclear missiles and passing a law permitting the preemptive use of its nuclear weapons in a wide variety of situations. Some experts still doubt that North Korea could be the first to use nuclear weapons in the face of US and South Korean forces.
North Korea has argued that its recent weapons tests were intended to alert Washington and Seoul to their series of joint military exercises it considers an invasion rehearsal, including this week’s exercises involving about 240 warplanes.
In a statement released Wednesday, Pak Jong Chon, a secretary of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party who is considered a close confidant of leader Kim Jong Un, called the so-called Vigilant Storm air force exercises “aggressive and provocative.”
He also criticized South Korean military leaders for what he called “nonsense” and threatened to destroy North Korea if it used nuclear weapons.
“If the US and South Korea try to use forces against (North Korea) without any fear, the special resources of the (North) forces will carry out their strategic mission without delay,” Pak said, in a clear reference to his nuclear weapons. of the country.
“The US and South Korea will face a terrible case and pay the most terrible price in history,” he said.
US and South Korean officials have steadfastly said that their exercises are defensive in nature and that they have no intention of attacking North Korea.