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North Korea Fires Missiles Off Eastern Coast

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North Korea fired four short-range missiles off of its east coast, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Thursday, in apparent posturing coinciding with joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises.

The North regularly fires short-range missiles in military drills, but the timing suggests the North was expressing its discontent with the exercises that began Monday amid vehement opposition from the North.

Local South Korean media said the missiles are believed to be Scud short-range missiles with a range of about 125 miles, meaning they could reach targets in the South, though not in Japan, Reuters reports.

Despite having threatened nuclear strikes on South Korea and the U.S. just last year, North Korea has shown signs of tempering its aggressive stance. Last week, Pyongyang allowed a reunion of families divided by the Korean War to move forward despite initial threats to cancel the meeting if the South went ahead with its joint military exercises. South Korea, meanwhile, offered medical assistance to North Korea earlier this week to combat an outbreak of swine foot-and-mouth disease, which, if accepted, would mark the first government humanitarian aid between the two countries since 2010.

A level of tensions, however, does persist. Also on Thursday, North Korea released footage of a press conference in which it identified a South Korean missionary who was arrested in November as a spy. Kim Jong-uk said, in footage that resembles past staged confessions by foreigners who later recant their statements, that he is a “criminal” and was looking to “break down the North’s regime and political system.”

The South Korean government has since called for Kim’s release.

“It is hard to understand that [North Korea] calls our national, who is doing purely religious activities, an anti-state criminal,” Kim Eui-do, a spokesman of the South’s Unification Ministry that handles inter-Korea affairs, said during a news briefing, Reuters reports.


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Write to Noah Rayman at noah.rayman@time.com