South Korea's Ministry of National Defense told the National Assembly that it is "hard" to see the projectiles North Korea launched Saturday as missiles and that the ministry saw Pyongyang's intention as training, rather than provocation, a ruling party lawmaker said Tuesday. The ministry's interpretation cited by the lawmaker has triggered a criticism that the ruling party and the defense ministry are trying to downplay the "provocation" and protect North Korea.
After being briefed by the ministry on the North's projectile launches, Rep. Ahn Gyu-baek, chairman of the parliamentary defense committee, quoted the ministry as saying, "The North's launch of projectiles was a firing drill, rather than provocation. If it had been a (missile) provocation, the North would have launched them at dawn at an unknown location. But the North Koreans conducted the drill at 9 a.m. at an open place." Asked if it was hard to see the projectile as missiles, the ministry answered positively, according to Ahn. The ministry backed up its analysis with the fact that the flight altitudes of the projectiles were lower than those of short-range ballistic missiles.
However, some experts say that the defense ministry's grounds for not seeing them as missiles are weak. In 2017, North Korea made a ballistic missile provocation around 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. several times. The ministry said on Wednesday afternoon that what Ahn told the media was not the ministry's official report, as he had added his own personal views.
After being briefed by Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk, Na Kyung-won, the floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), criticized the ministry for seemingly being "afraid of using the word 'missile'." Baek Seung-joo, an LKP member of the parliamentary defense committee, claimed the ministry had told him that it was looking closely at the projectiles, as they looked similar to the Russian-made 9K720 Iskander missiles.
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