North Korea yesterday showed photos of Kim Jong-un directing rocket launches from a site close to South Korea - an apparent act of defiance that puts the face of its leader to actions provoking his neighbours.
Satellite imagery and photos released by state media show the rockets were fired several kilometres north of a South Korean tourist observatory near the inter-Korean Demilitarised Zone.
The burning trails from the Soviet-era projectiles on Monday could be seen between mountains on the North Korean side, footage filmed by staff at the observatory showed.
State media has in recent days called the presence of a US Navy aircraft carrier in South Korea a "sinister interference".
"They know South Korean officials will report their missile launches so they've decided to seize the initiative and announce it themselves," said Michael Madden, an expert on the North Korean leadership.
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 gave the order to launch the rocket barrage, said the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, suggesting his growing confidence in actions that infuriate the South and Japan. South Korean officials confirmed the reports.
"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.
"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."
- South Korea yesterday announced state funding for humanitarian projects in North Korea for the first time since Seoul imposed tough economic sanctions four years ago. It will provide US$2.9 million in grants to civilian groups providing assistance to North Korea in such fields as agriculture, livestock and healthcare.
The Unification Ministry stressed the move did not affect the ban on direct state aid introduced after the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan in 2010, which Seoul blamed on Pyongyang.
Additional reporting byAgence France-Presse