North Korea fired four missiles off its eastern coast Saturday, South Korea said, in what was likely to be seen as a message of defiance to the United States on its Independence Day holiday.
The launches, which came two days after North Korea fired four short-range missiles, could further escalate tensions in the region as the U.S. tries to muster support for tough enforcement of the U.N. resolution imposed on the communist regime for its May nuclear test.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said three missiles were fired early Saturday and the fourth at about noon but declined to elaborate on the type.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted military officials as saying the missiles appeared to be a type of Scud missile. North Korea's Scuds are considered short-range, South Korea's military said.
North Korea is not allowed to fire Scuds, medium-range missiles or long-range missiles under the resolution banning any launch using ballistic missile technology.
A senior presidential official told The Associated Press the missiles fired are believed to have a range of less than 300 miles (500 kilometers).
"Our military is fully ready to counter any North Korean threats and provocations based on strong South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture," the Joint Chiefs of Staff statement said.
North Korea's state news agency carried no reports on the launches.
The chief of U.S. Naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, said the American military was ready for any North Korean missile tests.
"Our ships and forces here are prepared for the tracking of the missiles and observing the activities that are going on," Roughead said after meeting Japanese military officials in Tokyo on Saturday.
Speculation had been high that the communist country might launch more missiles. North Korea had warned shipping to stay away from its east coast effective through July 10.
The senior presidential official cautioned that North Korea could fire more missiles in coming days, but said there was little possibility it could fire the intercontinental ballistic missile it threatened in April.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Saturday's launches came on July 4, or U.S. Independence Day. The North has a record of timing missile tests for the U.S. national day.
"The missiles were seen as part of military exercises, but North Korea also appeared to have sent a message to the U.S. through the missile launches," the presidential official said, without elaborating.