(Adds U.S. comment, paragraphs 5-7)
By James Pearson
SEOUL, July 15 (Reuters) - North Korea on Tuesday showed
detailed photos of Kim Jong Un directing rocket launches from a
site close to the South in an apparent act of defiance that puts
a personal face of its leader to actions provoking its
Satellite imagery and photos released by state media show
the rockets were fired several kilometres north of a popular
South Korean tourist observatory near the inter-Korean
Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).
The roar of rockets and the burning trails from the
Soviet-era projectiles on Monday could be seen rising from
clouds of smoke between mountains on the North Korean side,
footage filmed by staff members at the observatory and obtained
by Reuters showed.
It was not immediately clear why North Korea conducted
drills so close to the border, but state media has in recent
days called the presence of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in
South Korea a "sinister interference."
The United States, which has more than 28,000 troops
stationed in South Korea, said it was concerned by reports of
recent North Korean missile launches.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it was "not
appropriate" to try to link the launches to joint military
exercises between the United States and South Korea.
"These annual joint exercises are transparent,
defence-oriented. They've been ... carried out regularly and
openly for roughly 40 years now. And these recent missile
launches were conducted without warning and are clearly designed
to raise tensions," Psaki told a regular news briefing.
North Korea routinely fires short-range missiles or rockets
into waters off its east and west coasts, but state media rarely
shows Kim supervising drills so close to South Korea and has
only in recent weeks shown the young leader present at
short-range ballistic missile and rocket launches.
Kim personally gave the order to launch the rocket barrage,
the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, suggesting his
growing confidence in actions that infuriate the South and
neighbouring Japan. South Korean officials confirmed the
"North Korea fired from a position very close to the DMZ. It
represents such a threat to South Korea that even our civilian
tourists were able to witness columns of water caused by North
Korean shells landing in the sea," South Korean Defence Ministry
spokesman Kim Min-seok said at a news briefing.
"Our government takes the firm stance that we will
mercilessly retaliate if North Korea fires missiles or artillery
south of its border with the DMZ."
Photos carried by North's main newspaper showed mobile
rocket launchers firing projectiles beside an inter-Korean
railway that heads into a mountain range which North Korea has
declared a special tourism zone and was once open to South
North and South Korea are still technically at war after the
1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The
rivals are scheduled to meet this Thursday to discuss
preparations ahead of the Asian Games, due to be held in the
South Korean city of Incheon later this year.
Last Sunday, state media showed Kim supervising the launch
of two Scud-class missiles, in defiance of a United Nations ban
on the isolated country's use of ballistic missile technology.
North Korea, whose lone major ally is neighbouring China,
has threatened a fourth nuclear test in violation of U.N.
sanctions and has test-fired short-range missiles and rockets
four times in the past two weeks.
(Addition reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL and David
Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; editing by Nick Macfie and G Crosse)
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