SEOUL, South Korea -- U.S. and South Korean troops increased alert levels Wednesday, as South Korea's foreign minister warned that North Korea could launch its medium-range Musudan missile "any time from now."
Although North Korea has tested many of its short-range Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles, it has never flight-tested the longer-range Musudan, which is believed to have a range of around 2,175 miles. A successful test of the missile would demonstrate the North's potential to hit not only South Korea, but also all of Japan and targets as far away as the U.S. military bases on the Pacific island of Guam.
"Based on intelligence we and the Americans have collected, it's highly likely that North Korea will launch a missile," South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a parliamentary hearing Wednesday, adding that such a test would violate U.N. resolutions banning the country from testing ballistic missiles. "Such a possibility could materialize at any time from now."
U.S. and South Korean troops raised their "Watchcon" level of vigilance, stepping up monitoring and intelligence-gathering activities, South Korean Defense Ministry officials said.
Adding to the concerns, North Korea often stages military provocations around important national anniversaries, and Monday is the birthday of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong Un.
Japan was also on guard for a potential North Korean missile launch, deploying PAC-3 missile interceptors in key locations around Tokyo as a precaution. The U.S. military has moved two Navy missile-defense ships closer to the Korean Peninsula to monitor any North Korean missile launchings and to intercept the missiles if they threaten the U.S. bases or Washington's allies in the region.
South Korean military officials said they had detected the movements of not only the Musudan, but also Scud and Rodong missiles to the North's east coast, indicating that the North might fire those missiles together, as they had done before.
Despite warnings from their leaders of impending nuclear war, Pyongyang residents gave no sense of panic, with people planting trees and dancing in the plazas ahead of the holiday, The Associated Press, which has a bureau in the North Korean capital, reported Wednesday.
The North Korean warnings also appeared to have little or no effect on the small Pyongyang community of foreign diplomats, who were admonished by the host government last week that it could not guarantee their safety as of Wednesday and urged to consider evacuating.
Also Wednesday, South Korea officially blamed North Korea for launching a series of hacking attacks that paralyzed the computer networks of three broadcasters and three banks, as well as several government websites, in the South last month. The findings were by an investigation team that included government and civilian experts.