North Korea fires short-range missiles off coast, South Korean ministry says

North Korea fired short-range missiles off its western coast in an apparent test Thursday, South Korea's Defense Ministry said, amid a deadlock in international negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

"We have intelligence that North Korea fired short-range missiles into the waters off its western coast, and we are trying to confirm how many were fired and what type of missiles they are," a Defense Ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency also cited two unidentified intelligence officials as saying the North fired at least one missile. One of the officials said Pyongyang fired two - one in the morning and one in the afternoon - which is believed to be part of the communist regime's "routine drills," according to Yonhap.

The missiles were either land-to-ship or ship-to-ship models with a range of less than 62 miles, and fell into North Korea's territorial waters, the report said.

The news came two weeks after North Korea test-fired at least one short-range missile into eastern coastal waters, which South Korean and U.S. officials played down as part of the communist country's regular military exercises.

In recent weeks, North Korea has refused to move on its pledge to shut down its main nuclear reactor over a delay in withdrawing $25 million of its money at a Macau bank that was blacklisted by the U.S. for allegedly helping the North launder and counterfeit money.

The North has made the release of the funds a key condition to disarmament, having boycotted international negotiations for more than a year over the issue, during which it conducted its first-ever nuclear test in October.

In July 2006, North Korea also test-fired a barrage of missiles, including a long-range one believed to be capable of reaching even parts of the U.S.

North Korea is believed to have produced enough plutonium to make as many as a dozen or more nuclear bombs, but experts say it likely does not have a bomb design advanced enough to be placed on a missile.