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Report: North Korea launches short-range missiles

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Report: The missiles were fired away from South Korean waters
  • North Korea fired three short-range missiles, South Korean Defense Ministry is quoted as saying
  • They were fired into the sea off the Korean Peninsula's east coast, Yonhap reports
  • Tensions in the region have eased since a peak last month

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(CNN) -- North Korea launched three short-range guided missiles into the sea off the Korean Peninsula's east coast Saturday, South Korea's semi-official news agency Yonhap cited the South Korean Defense Ministry as saying.

The ministry said it had detected two launches in the morning, followed by another in the afternoon, Yonhap reported.

The missiles were fired in a northeasterly direction, away from South Korean waters, the ministry said.

South Korea has beefed up monitoring on North Korea and is maintaining a high-level of readiness to deal with any risky developments, the ministry added, according to Yonhap.

According to the Arms Control Association, a U.S.-based organization, short-range guided missiles are generally classified as those traveling less than 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles.)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, tours a frontline military unit, in this image released July 16 by state run North Korean Central News Agency. A recent United Nations report described a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, tours a frontline military unit, in this image released July 16 by state run North Korean Central News Agency. A recent United Nations report described a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
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Tensions in the region have eased in recent days since a fraught period last month that included near daily North Korean threats of war.

U.S. and South Korean officials feared at that time that Kim Jong Un's regime was planning to carry out a test launch of longer-range ballistic missiles, believed to be Musudans. The South Korean government says they have a maximum range of 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).

Andrew Salmon, a journalist and author based in the South Korean capital, Seoul, said North Korea's reported launch of short-range missiles Saturday should not cause the same degree of concern as the launch of a satellite or medium-range Musudan rocket.

"It's a short-range tactical weapon. If any other country launched this kind of weapon, it's a routine test, nobody would be too worried. It's really simply because it's North Korea doing this that it raises concerns," he said.

The situation is much less tense in the region than it was last month, Salmon said.

"The North Koreans have significantly de-escalated their bellicosity and their rhetoric since the end of April," he said. "The South Korean government, I suspect, will not be strongly condemnatory of this test because right now they are very, very keen to get the North Koreans to the negotiating table."

The recent tensions flared after the North's long-range rocket launch in December and underground nuclear test in February, both of which were widely condemned.

Pyongyang's fiery rhetoric intensified in March as the U.N. Security Council voted to tighten sanctions on the regime following the nuclear test.

Annual U.S.-South Korean military drills in South Korea also fueled the North's anger, especially when the United States carried out displays of strength that included nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers.

North Korea is demanding recognition as a nuclear power, something the United States refuses to countenance.

Last month's crisis resulted in the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

CNN's Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

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