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Seoul: North Korea again fires short-range projectiles, this time ahead of big Korean holiday

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Saturday continued its string of rocket and missile firings, launching three short-range projectiles into the waters off its east coast ahead of a major holiday celebrated by both Koreas, a South Korean defense official said.

The projectiles flew about 210 kilometers (130 miles) before landing in the water, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office rules. It wasn't immediately clear what sort of projectiles they were.

North Korea routinely test-fires missiles and rockets, but it has conducted an unusually large number of weapons tests this year, including the launch of a short-range projectile on Monday. Pyongyang has expressed anger over U.S.-South Korean military drills and various South Korean government policies. The North says the drills are invasion preparation. Seoul and Washington say they are routine and defensive.

The launch came as the Korean Peninsula begins celebrating a major holiday, similar to Thanksgiving in the United States. The three-day holiday starts Monday, but many people were already traveling to visit family over the weekend.

Separately, on Friday, North Korea said it would send back a South Korean man who entered the North illegally, in an apparent conciliatory gesture.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency said Kim Sang-geun entered North Korea through a third country after having unspecified difficulties living in the South. It said Kim asked to live in North Korea and bring his family members from the South but the country decided to repatriate him next Thursday.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement it has informed North Korea that it will take custody of Kim.

About 27,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea to avoid poverty and political suppression since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, but South Koreans defecting to North Korea are uncommon.

Kim's repatriation suggests that impoverished North Korea is still interested in improving ties with South Korea, said Chang Yong Seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies. In the past North Korea has been accused of using foreigners who crossed its borders as a propaganda tool by bringing false espionage and other charges against them.

North Korea is sending its athletes to the Asian Games being held in South Korea later this month. And in recent months North Korea has proposed a set of measures it says would reduce tension, but South Korea has rebuffed the overture, arguing that North Korea must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament. Outside analysts say the North is pushing for better ties with South Korea to help attract foreign investment and aid to revive its economy.

In May, North Korea sentenced a South Korean Baptist missionary to hard labor for life for allegedly spying and trying to set up underground churches. Three Americans are also being detained in North Korea for alleged hostile acts and other charges.

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