On Friday, North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile, conducted multiple artillery barrages, and piloted fighter jets near the southern border in another show of force that the US has warned could culminate in a nuclear test.
Pyongyang in recent weeks has dramatically stepped up missile launches and military exercises, which it now describes as “nuclear tactical” exercises, as Seoul and Washington say leader Kim Jong Un is close to conducting what would be the seventh nuclear test of its country.
The North Korean military said in a rare statement that its latest actions came in response to a “provocative” South Korean artillery drill near the border.
The Korean People’s Army “has taken strong military countermeasures,” according to a statement released by the official Korean Central News Agency early Friday.
Pyongyang has issued “a severe warning to the South Korean army which has incited military tension in the front area with reckless action”, the note read.
The South Korean military said it detected a ballistic missile launch from the Sunan area in Pyongyang early Friday, hours after Pyongyang flew 10 fighter jets near the border.
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North Korean jets have crossed a “reconnaissance line” set up in Seoul that triggers an automatic operational response. Seoul then took off military aircraft, including F-35A fighters, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
North Korea also fired some 170 artillery rounds in the waters off its eastern and western coasts, violating a maritime “buffer zone” agreed in a 2018 agreement, the JCS said.
Later Friday, Seoul claimed to have detected about 80 additional artillery shells fired by North Korea in the buffer zone.
“Firing artillery shells in the East and West Sea buffer zones is a clear violation of the September 19 military agreement,” the JCS said in a statement, referring to the 2018 agreement.
“We strongly warn them and urge them to stop immediately.”
There have been growing demands from lawmakers from the ruling party for South Korea’s new hawkish administration to cancel the 2018 deal.
Pyongyang firing in the buffer zone could be in protest, Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification told AFP.
“The fact that the bullets fell in the buffer zone, rather than across the border, indicates that the North is not willing to do everything possible to overthrow the deal, but rather an attempt to test how Seoul will respond to it.”
– New notice? –
On Friday, South Korea imposed its first unilateral sanctions in five years, targeting North Korean individuals and institutions.
The United States also condemned the ballistic missile launch on Friday, saying that, like many other recent launches, it violated multiple UN sanctions.
“We continue to seek serious and sustained dialogue with the DPRK, but the DPRK refuses to engage,” a State Department spokesperson said, referring to the North by its official name.
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Earlier this week, Kim Jong Un rejected the idea of resuming talks about his banned weapons programs, saying North Korea “didn’t feel the need to do so.”
The country revised its nuclear laws last month to allow for pre-emptive strikes, with Kim declaring North Korea an “irreversible” nuclear power, ending the possibility of negotiations over its arsenal.
Since then, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have stepped up combined military exercises, including the deployment of a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier to the area twice, infuriating Pyongyang, which sees such exercises as evidence for the invasion.
– Nuclear test fears –
The night barrage follows the test launch of two long-range strategic cruise missiles on Wednesday, which in turn came two days after the North said it concluded two weeks of “nuclear tactical” exercises.
Kim expressed “great satisfaction” with the recent tests, which he said showed that the country’s nuclear combat forces were “fully prepared for real war,” state media reported.
With long-stalled talks – and Ukraine-related traffic jam at the United Nations hindering new sanctions – Kim has doubled down on the development and testing of his banned nuclear arsenal.
Officials in Seoul and Washington have been warning for months that Pyongyang is ready to conduct another nuclear test, which would be the seventh in the country.
Kim said North Korea “will focus all efforts on the infinite and accelerated development of the national nuclear combat armed forces.”
It made acquiring tactical nuclear weapons – smaller and lighter weapons designed for use on the battlefield – a top priority at a key party congress in January 2021.