North Korea fired two ballistic missiles on Sunday, Seoul’s military said, days after Pyongyang announced a successful test of a solid-fuel engine for a new weapons system.
Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen sharply this year as Pyongyang has carried out an unprecedented barrage of weapons tests, including the launch of its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile ever last month.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected two ballistic missiles that had been fired from the Tongchang-ri area in North Pyongan province.
The missiles were fired from 11:13 am (02:13 GMT) to 12:05 pm in the East Sea, he said, referring to the body of water also known as the sea of japan
“Our military has strengthened surveillance and monitoring while cooperating closely with the United States and maintaining a posture of full readiness,” the JCS added in a statement.
“Threatens peace and security”
The missiles flew about 500 kilometers and reached a maximum altitude of about 550 kilometers, according to Japan’s defense ministry.
“It threatens the peace and security of our country, this region and the international community, and it is absolutely unacceptable,” said Deputy Defense Minister Toshiro Ino.
Watch: North Korea tests powerful new ICBM engine
Sunday’s launch came days after North Korea tested a “high-thrust solid fuel engine,” and state media described it as a major test “for the development of another weapons system strategies of a new kind”.
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Despite heavy international sanctions over its weapons programs, Pyongyang has built an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
However, all of its known ICBMs are liquid-fueled, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given strategic priority to developing solid-fuel engines for more advanced missiles.
Kim said this year that he wants North Korea to have the most powerful nuclear force in the world and declared his country an “irreversible” nuclear state.
The wish list he revealed last year included solid-fuel ICBMs that could be launched from land or submarines.
The latest engine test was a step toward that goal, but it’s unclear how far North Korea has come in developing such a missile, analysts said.
Key party meeting
The isolated country’s political direction for next year will be set out at a key party meeting later this month, with the official Korean Central News Agency earlier reporting that Kim said 2023 would be a “historic year”.
In recent years, Kim had delivered a speech every January 1, but has recently abandoned the tradition in favor of making announcements at the end-of-year plenary meeting.
In his most recent speech, which was released last New Year’s Day, Kim focused on domestic matters.
Experts say that while Kim refrained from directly addressing the United States last year, he may change his tune this time.
The United States and South Korea have warned for months that North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test.
North Korea has been under multiple UN Security Council sanctions for its nuclear and missile activity since 2006.
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