Pope Francis arrives to attend a welcoming ceremony at the
presidential Blue House in Seoul. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
North Korea fired three short-range rockets off its east
coast, South Korea's Ministry of Defence said, shortly before
Pope Francis arrived in Seoul on his first visit to Asia.
The rockets were fired from multiple launchers in the North
Korean port city of Wonsan and travelled 220km before landing
in waters east of the Korean peninsula, a defence ministry
The last rocket was fired 35 minutes before Pope Francis was
due to arrive at an air base in Seoul, where the pontiff
started a five-day visit to South Korea.
The launches came ahead of U.S.-South Korean military
exercises scheduled to start on Monday. Seoul and Washington
say the exercises are defensive in nature but North Korea
regularly protests against the drills, which it sees as a
rehearsal for war.
North Korea last fired short-range rockets in late July but
has since said repeatedly that the launches are specifically
designed as counter measures against those drills.
"Given that the U.S. and the puppet forces of South Korea
continue staging nuclear war exercises against us in
particular, we will take countermeasures for self-defence
which will include missile launches, nuclear tests and all
other programmes," a statement carried by North Korean state
media last Friday said.
Pyongyang is under heavy U.N. and U.S. sanctions related to
its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Short-range
rockets do not defy the ban but Pyongyang has in recent
months changed its propaganda style to include photographs of
leader Kim Jong Un personally supervising the launches.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said the United
States was assessing whether the rocket firings were in
violation of sanctions.
Marie Harf said Washington had yet to determine what type of
missiles had been fired, but said North Korea failed to
follow international procedures by giving prior notification
to ships and aircraft.
"We continue to call upon North Korea to refrain from taking
such provocative actions," she told a regular news briefing.