North Korea fires several cruise missiles off east coast in latest barrage

North Korea fired several cruise missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, Seoul’s military said, Pyongyang’s fifth such launch so far this year.

“Our military detected several unknown cruise missiles over the waters northeast of Wonsan around 09:00 today and South Korea-US intelligence authorities are conducting a detailed analysis,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

It added that it was “strengthening surveillance and vigilance, and closely watching for any additional signs and activities from North Korea”.

Earlier this week, North Korea announced it had tested of a new control system for a multiple rocket launcher it said would have an “increased” battlefield role.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says he has lawful right to annihilate South Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says he has lawful right to annihilate South Korea

So far this year, Kim has declared South Korea his country’s “principal enemy”, jettisoned agencies dedicated to reunification and outreach, and threatened war over “even 0.001mm” of territorial infringement.

Pyongyang has also been ramping up weapons tests, including an “underwater nuclear weapon system” test and the firing of a solid-fuelled hypersonic ballistic missile.

Kim Jong-un says he has the lawful right to destroy South Korea

It has also launched a flurry of cruise missiles, prompting speculation from experts that it is testing the weapons before shipping them to Moscow for use in Ukraine.

Pyongyang and Moscow have bolstered ties in recent months, with leader Kim Jong-un making a rare trip to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin in September.

Seoul and Washington have accused the North of supplying Russia with weapons in exchange for Moscow’s technical support for Kim’s nascent satellite programme, which would violate a raft of UN sanctions on both regimes.

Unlike their ballistic counterparts, the testing of cruise missiles is not banned under current UN sanctions on Pyongyang.

Cruise missiles tend to be jet-propelled and fly at a lower altitude than more sophisticated ballistic missiles, making them harder to detect and intercept.

Leader Kim repeated on Friday that Pyongyang would not hesitate to “put an end” to South Korea if attacked, calling Seoul the North’s “most dangerous and first enemy state and invariable arch-enemy”.

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A picture released on January 29 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watching a cruise missile being launched from a submarine. Photo: KCNA via dpa

In January, North Korea fired an artillery barrage near two South Korean border islands, prompting a live-fire drill by the South and evacuation orders for residents.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has vowed a strong response if Pyongyang attacks, calling on his military to “act first, report later” if provoked.

The hawkish Yoon has bolstered defence cooperation with the United States and Japan since coming to office in 2022, including expanding joint drills, to counter Pyongyang’s growing threats.

‘Russia ignored the truth’: Seoul summons Moscow’s envoys over Yoon remarks

Pyongyang has drawn closer to Moscow in other areas than defence, with a group of Russian tourists – the first known foreign tour group since before pandemic-linked border closures in 2020 – arriving in the North Friday for a four-day visit.

It has become harder for Russians to travel to Europe and the United States since sanctions were imposed following the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who has also visited Pyongyang, said last year that the North could be recommended as a tourist destination, Tass reported.

Additional reporting by dpa

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