By HYUNG-JIN KIM and KIM TONG-HYUNG – Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a ballistic missile and hundreds of artillery shells into the sea on Friday and flew warplanes near the tense border with South Korea, which further heightened the animosities sparked by the North. recent barrage of weapons testing.
North Korea’s moves suggest it is reviving an old playbook of stoking war fears with provocative weapons tests before seeking greater concessions from rivals.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the short-range missile took off from the northern capital area at 1:49 a.m. Friday (4:49 p.m. GMT Thursday; 12:49 p.m. EDT Thursday) and flew towards its eastern waters.
It was North Korea’s 15th missile launch since testing resumed on Sept. 25. North Korea said on Monday that its recent missile tests were nuclear strike simulations on South Korean and US targets in response to their “dangerous” military exercises involving a US aircraft carrier.
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Shortly after the last missile test, North Korea fired 130 shells off its west coast and 40 off its east coast. The shells fell inside maritime buffer zones established by the two Koreas as part of a 2018 inter-Korean agreement on reducing tensions, the South Korean military said.
On Friday afternoon, the South Korean military said North Korea had fired 90 more shells off its east coast. He said he also spotted about 300 other North Korean artillery fire from two separate western coastal areas. In both cases, the North Korean shells would again have landed in the buffer zones, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Observers said it was North Korea’s third and most direct violation of the 2018 accord, which created buffer zones and no-fly zones along their land borders and to avoid accidental clashes. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it earlier sent a message to North Korea asking it not to violate the agreement again.
North Korea flew fighter jets, believed to be 10 planes, separately near the rivals’ border Thursday night and Friday morning, prompting South Korea to scramble the fighter jets. No clash between the two countries has been reported. It was the first time a North Korean military aircraft had flown so close to the border since 2017.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea’s provocations are going “blind” but his country has massive retaliatory capabilities that can deter North Korean aggression to some extent.
“The decision to attack cannot be made without a willingness to risk a brutal outcome,” Yoon told reporters. “The strategy of massive punishment and retaliation, which is the last step in our three-pronged strategy, would be a considerable psychological and social deterrent (for the North).”
South Korea’s foreign ministry said on Friday it had imposed sanctions on 15 North Korean individuals and 16 organizations suspected of involvement in illicit activities aimed at funding North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. . It was Seoul’s first unilateral sanctions against North Korea in five years, but observers say it is largely a symbolic step because the two Koreas have little financial relationship with each other.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters he supported South Korea’s decision to impose the sanctions.
Most of the North’s recent weapons tests have been ballistic missile launches which are banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions. But the North has not been hit with new sanctions thanks to a split at the UN over US disputes with Russia over his invasion of Ukraine and with China on their strategic competition.
The missile launched on Friday traveled 650 to 700 kilometers (403 to 434 miles) at a maximum altitude of 50 kilometers (30 miles) before landing in waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan, according to South Korean and Japanese assessments. .
“Regardless of intentions, repeated ballistic missile launches by North Korea are absolutely unacceptable and we cannot ignore its substantial advances in missile technology,” Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that US commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan remained “ironclad”.
Other recent North Korean tests include a new intermediate-range missile that flew over Japan and demonstrated potential range to reach the U.S. Pacific Territory of Guam; long-range cruise missiles; and a ballistic missile fired from an interior tank, a first for the country.
After Wednesday’s cruise missile launches, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his nuclear forces were fully prepared for “real war to bring the enemies under their control at once” and pledged to expand the operational domain of its nuclear armed forces, according to North Korea. state media.
Some observers had predicted that North Korea would likely temporarily suspend testing activities this week in consideration of its ally China, which is due to start a major political conference on Sunday that is expected to give President Xi Jinping a third five-year term as party leader.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said in a regular briefing on Friday that all countries involved should work to prevent tensions from escalating and make progress towards resuming meaningful talks. .
North Korea’s ongoing test spree is reminiscent of its torrid series of missile and nuclear tests in 2017 that prompted Kim and then-US President Donald Trump to trade threats of total destruction. Kim later moved abruptly into high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with Trump in 2018, but their negotiations fell apart a year later due to wrangling over the degree of sanctions relief Kim should receive in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capacity.
Kim has repeatedly said he has no intention of resuming nuclear diplomacy. But some experts say he would eventually want to gain international recognition for his country as a nuclear state and hold arms control talks with the United States to wrest extended sanctions relief and other concessions in return. partial denuclearization measures.
The urgency of North Korea’s nuclear program has grown since a law was passed last month authorizing the preventive use of nuclear weapons over a wide range of scenarios, including non-war situations where he may perceive his leadership to be under threat.
Most recent North Korean tests have been of short-range nuclear-capable missiles aimed at South Korea. Some analysts say North Korea’s possible nuclear test, its first bomb explosion in five years, is linked to efforts to manufacture tactical battlefield warheads to place on such short-range missiles.
These developments have raised security concerns in South Korea, with some politicians and academics renewing calls for the United States to redeploy its tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea as a deterrent against escalating North American nuclear threats. Korean.
North Korea’s military said Friday morning it had taken unspecified “strong military countermeasures” in response to South Korean artillery fire for about 10 hours near the border on Thursday. South Korea’s military later confirmed it conducted artillery training in a frontline area, but said its drills did not violate terms of the 2018 agreement.
Major General Kang Ho Pil of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a televised statement that South Korea had issued “a stern warning to (North Korea) to immediately stop” its weapons testing.
South Korea’s military said it would begin annual 12-day field training on Monday to hone its operational capabilities in various North Korean provocation scenarios. He said an undetermined number of US soldiers planned to take part in this year’s exercises.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.
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