SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has test-fired seven short-range missiles into the sea, South Korean officials said Friday, in the latest such launches during ongoing South Korea-U.S. military drills.
The surface-to-air missiles launched late Thursday flew into waters off the country's eastern coast, said a South Korean defense official who requested anonymity because of official policy.
A South Korean Joint Chief of Staff officer, who also did not want to be named citing office rules, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected the missile tests, but he refused to say how he obtained the information. Kim occasionally guides his military's weapons tests, according to Pyongyang's state media.
North Korea routinely tests missiles, rockets and artillery but the latest launches came as the country reacts angrily to annual springtime military drills between South Korea and the U.S. Pyongyang says the drills are aimed at preparing to topple its government, though Seoul and Washington say they are purely defensive.
A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren, confirmed the launch of multiple surface-to-air missiles Friday, saying they had fallen into the Sea of Japan.
"The North Koreans, we encourage them to stop bombing fish and to begin feeding their own people," Warren said.
North Korea fired two short-range missiles on the first day of the drills earlier this month and warned of "merciless" strikes against South Korea and the U.S. The exercises are to continue until late April.
In a legacy from the 1950-53 Korean War, the U.S. stations about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea as a deterrent for possible aggression from North Korea.
Earlier this year, North Korea told the U.S. that it was willing to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington canceled the drills, but the U.S. rejected the offer.
The North conducted atomic bomb tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and outside analysts say a fourth test would put the country a step closer toward its goal of manufacturing warheads small enough to be mounted on a missile that can hit the U.S.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.