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N. Korea’s firing of missiles seen as message to South

Military exercises of US, Seoul are viewed as threat

North Korea launched four Scud missiles last Thursday and two more on Monday, South Korean officials asserted.

Lee Jong-Kun/Yon Hap/REUTERS

North Korea launched four Scud missiles last Thursday and two more on Monday, South Korean officials asserted.

SEOUL — North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea Monday in the second such launch in less than a week, amid ongoing annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington, South Korean officials said.

The launches appear to be a continuation of North Korea’s protest of the drills, which it calls preparation for an attack, and a test of the country’s weapons systems. The launches followed South Korea’s announcement that North Korea on Thursday fired four short-range Scud missiles with a range of more than about 125 miles into the North’s eastern waters.

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The United States said the latest launches, of Scud short-range missiles, violated UN Security Council resolutions that call on North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile program.

‘‘We urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions that aggravate tensions and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments,’’ State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington. ‘‘Scud missile launches are a violation of these UN Security Council resolutions.’’

However, North Korea routinely test-fires short-range missiles, and outside analysts say the recent launches were not expected to raise tensions, as was the case last spring when North Korea repeatedly threatened to launch nuclear war following its third nuclear test.

Recently, North Korea has pushed for improved ties with South Korea and taken conciliatory gestures, including rare reunions last month of families divided by the Korean War.

In a separate development Monday, Japanese and North Korean Red Cross officials met in Shenyang, China, in what Japan hopes will be a step toward future talks on the return of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Monday’s meeting dealt with a different issue, the return of the remains of 21,600 Japanese who died in Korea during the chaos at the end of World War II. Foreign Ministry officials from both countries also attended the meeting and held informal talks on the side.

In the missile launches, two projectiles that were fired from the North’s east coast flew about 300 miles before landing in the sea, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters.

South Korea is trying to confirm what exactly North Korea fired on Monday based on the speed and trajectory of the projectiles, but an initial investigation showed they were missiles, suspected to be Scud-series, a Defense Ministry official said.

He said the North Korean missiles flew past a South Korean air defense identification zone and landed in the waters below the Japanese defense zone.

Kim said the launches were made without a prior notice. He described them as a provocation posing a serious threat to international aviation and maritime navigations and civilian safety. ‘‘North Korea is doing an act of double standard by taking a peace offensive ostensibly, but later launching reckless provocative acts,’’ he said.

Chang Yong Seok of the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at the Seoul National University said that the launches appeared to be part of North Korean military training aimed at coping with the South Korea-US drills. He said that tensions could be heightened if North Korea tested a longer-range missile capable of hitting Japan or the US territory of Guam.

Analysts say the North’s recent charm offensive toward South Korea is largely aimed at helping lure foreign investment and aid to help revive the country’s troubled economy.

The two Koreas are divided along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

About 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea. South Korea and the United States have said they have no intentions of invading North Korea and their ongoing springtime drills are defensive.

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