S. Korea says North's ballistic missile test failed

By AFP/Jung Ha-Won   May 31, 2016 | 09:38 am GMT+7

North Korea on Tuesday appeared to have tried and failed with a fresh ballistic missile launch in violation of existing UN resolutions, South Korea's defense ministry said.

The UN measures ban North Korea from any use of ballistic missile technology, although it regularly fires short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast.

Tensions have been running high on the divided Korean peninsula since the North's fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a long-range rocket launch the following month.

The defense ministry in Seoul said the missile test took place at around 5:20 am (2020 GMT Monday) near the eastern port city of Wonsan.

"The attempted missile launch ... is believed to have failed," a ministry spokesman said.

"We are analyzing and closely monitoring the situation and maintaining a watertight defense posture," he added.

The ministry declined to speculate on the type of missile, but the South's Yonhap news agency quoted military sources saying it was understood to be a medium-range Musudan.

In April, the North failed three times to test-fire a Musudan, which has an estimated range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers (1,550 to 2,500 miles).

The lower range covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include U.S. military bases on Guam.

In Tokyo, public broadcaster NHK said the Japanese government had put its military on pre-emptive alert Monday with orders to intercept any North Korean missile that threatened Japanese territory.

Under the order, the Self-Defense Forces deployed Aegis destroyers equipped with missile interceptors offshore and PAC-3 surface-to-air anti-ballistic missiles, NHK said.

First unveiled as an indigenous missile at a military parade in Pyongyang in October 2010, the Musudan has never been successfully flight-tested.

The three failures in April were seen as an embarrassment for the Pyongyang leadership, coming ahead of a party congress in May which was meant to celebrate the country's achievements.

During the congress, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un personally extended an offer of military dialogue with the South aimed at easing tensions.

The proposal was repeated several times by the North's military, but Seoul dismissed all the overtures as insincere "posturing" given Kim's vow at the same congress to push ahead with the country's nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang had hailed a series of technical military breakthroughs in the months leading up to the May party congress.

They included miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile, developing a warhead that can withstand atmospheric re-entry, and building a solid-fuel missile engine.

It also said had successfully tested an engine designed for an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) that would "guarantee" an eventual nuclear strike on the U.S. mainland.

Outside experts have treated a number of the claims with skepticism, while acknowledging that the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs have both made significant strides.