SEOUL North Korea test-fired what appeared to be two intermediate range ballistic missiles on Thursday but both failed, a South Korean official said, in a setback for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the run-up to next week's ruling party congress.
Isolated North Korea has conducted a series of missile launches, in violation of U.N. resolutions, and tests of military technology ahead of the Workers' Party congress that begins on May 6.
Thursday's tests looked to have been hurried, according to a defense expert in Seoul, and follow a failed launch of a similar missile earlier this month.
The first launch, at about 6:40 a.m. local time (2140 GMT Wednesday) from near the east coast city of Wonsan, appeared to have been of a Musudan missile with a range of more than 3,000 km (1,800 miles) which crashed within seconds, the South Korean defense ministry official said.
Later, at around 7:26 p.m., the North shot a similar intermediate range missile from the same area, but the launch was also understood to have failed, the official added.
The U.S. Strategic Command said it tracked two attempted North Korean missile launches, neither of which posed a threat to North America.
"They are in a rush to show anything that is successful, to meet the schedule of a political event, the party congress," said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum and a policy adviser to the South Korean navy, speaking after the first launch.
"They need to succeed but they keep failing. They didn't have enough time to fix or technically modify the system, but just shot them because they were in a hurry."
A similar missile launched on the April 15 birthday anniversary of Kim's late grandfather, the country's founder Kim Il Sung, exploded in what the U.S. Defense Department called a "fiery, catastrophic" failure.
Some experts had predicted that North Korea would wait until it figured out what went wrong in the previous failed Musudan missile launch before attempting another, a process that could take months and a sign that Thursday's firings were rushed.
However, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported on Tuesday that the North appeared to be preparing another launch of a Musudan, which theoretically has the range to reach any part of Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam.
According to South Korea, the missile has never been successfully flight-tested.
North Korea lists South Korea, the United States and Japan as its main enemies.
South Korea also says the North is ready to conduct a nuclear test at any time. It would be its fifth.
"Signs for an imminent fifth nuclear test are being detected ahead of North Korea's seventh Party Congress," President Park Geun-hye said at a national security meeting on Thursday.
DID NOT FLY HIGH
The defense ministry official, who declined to be named, did not comment on why news of the first launch came out several hours after it took place.
Yonhap said the missile was not detected by South Korean military radar because it did not fly above a few hundred meters, and was spotted by a U.S. satellite.
The South Korean defense ministry could not confirm that report.
North Korea's missile tests are in defiance of United Nations Security Council sanctions against the country, which were strengthened following a January nuclear test and a space rocket launch the following month.
On Saturday, North Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which traveled about 30 km (18 miles) off its east coast.
(Writing by Tony Munroe,; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mike Collett-White)
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