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North Korea launches two missiles, warns region will become its 'firing range'

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday morning, South Korean defense officials said, following an ICBM launch on Saturday. File Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
1 of 3 | North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday morning, South Korean defense officials said, following an ICBM launch on Saturday. File Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- North Korea launched a pair of short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Monday morning, the South Korean military said, as Kim Jong Un's influential sister warned of turning the Pacific into a "firing range."

Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said that it detected the launches from the Sukchon area of South Pyongan Province between 7 a.m. and 7:11 a.m. The missiles traveled around 242 miles and 211 miles, respectively, and landed in the sea between Korea and Japan.

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The launches "are serious provocations that undermine peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as the international community," the JCS said in a text message to reporters.

"Our military has a solid response posture based on South Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation and maintains a firm readiness posture based on its ability to overwhelmingly respond to any provocation by North Korea," the message added.

Japan also said it detected the launch, with the prime minister's office issuing an alert that North Korea had fired a "suspected ballistic missile."

The launches come two days after North Korea fired a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in what it called a "surprise" drill that demonstrated its capacity to carry out a "fatal nuclear counterattack." Japanese officials said the ICBM splashed down into the waters of its exclusive economic zone and had the range to reach the entire United States.

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The United States and South Korea responded on Sunday by staging joint air exercises involving U.S. B-1B bombers and F-16 fighter jets alongside the South's F-35 stealth fighters.

In a statement released Monday morning after the launches, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said that the United States' military activity was "getting brisk around the Korean Peninsula" and warned that Pyongyang would respond in kind.

"We are carefully examining the influence [the military activity] would exert on the security of our state, and we are going to make it an established fact ... that we will take corresponding counteraction if it is judged to be any direct or indirect threat," she said in a statement carried by Korean Central News Agency.

"The frequency of using the Pacific as our firing range depends upon the U.S. forces' action character," she said.

Kim also defended Pyongyang's ICBM technology, including the capacity to deliver a nuclear payload through atmospheric re-entry, which Seoul questioned in a defense policy report last week.

"We have possessed satisfactory technology and capability and now will focus on increasing the quantity of their force," she said, adding that the United States and South Korea "had better rack their brains to take measures to defend themselves, instead of doubting or worrying about other's technology."

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Seoul and Washington are scheduled to hold a tabletop military exercise designed to counter North Korean nuclear threats this week, and will conduct their springtime Freedom Shield joint drill next month.

North Korea has long condemned the drills as preparations for an invasion and warned on Friday of "unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions" to the upcoming exercises.

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