updated 5/25/2007 7:56:56 AM ET 2007-05-25T11:56:56

North Korea fired several short-range guided missiles Friday in an apparent test launch, South Korean officials and media reports said.

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South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed the launches, but said it was still investigating how many missiles were fired and where exactly the tests occurred.

“The short-range missile launches are believed to be part of a routine exercise that North Korea has conducted annually on the east and the west coasts in the past,” the Joint Chiefs said in a statement.

The missiles were fired from the communist country’s east coast into the sea between Japan and the Korean peninsula, a Joint Chiefs official said on condition of anonymity, citing official protocol.

Response to South Korea?
Some reports suggested the North’s test was in response to South Korea’s launch of its first destroyer equipped with high-tech Aegis radar technology on Friday.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited an unidentified Unification Ministry official as saying the tests would not strain ties because they were apparently part of regular exercises. North and South Korea are planning to hold Cabinet level talks on reconciliation efforts next week in Seoul.

Japan’s public broadcaster and other media, citing Japanese and U.S. sources, reported that the missiles were surface-to-ship. Japan’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry could not immediately confirm the reports, but were investigating.

Public broadcaster NHK said the missiles were shorter-range, and were not North Korea’s existing Rodong or Taepodong I ballistic missiles. It was not immediately known where the missiles landed.

Kyodo News agency said the missiles were launched from Hamgyong Namdo on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula and are considered modified silkworm or miniaturized Scuds, with a range of about 60 to 125 miles.

Constant concern
North Korea’s missile program has been a constant concern to the region, along with its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The hard-line regime test-fired a series of missiles in July last year, including its latest long-range model, known abroad as the Taepodong-2, which experts believe could reach parts of the United States.

The North rattled the world again in October by conducting its first-ever test of a nuclear device. However, experts believe it does not have a bomb design advanced enough to be placed on a missile.

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