INTERNATIONAL

North Korean leader supervises missile test, warns of aggressive posture in sea boundary with South

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a test of new surface-to-sea missiles and warned that the country would take a more aggressive military posture in disputed sea boundaries with war-divided rival South Korea, the North’s state media said Thursday.

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The report by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency came a day after South Korea’s military said it detected the North firing multiple cruise missiles in waters off its eastern port of Wonsan. The test, the North’s sixth missile launch event of 2024, added to a provocative run in weapons demonstrations since 2022 that escalated tensions to the highest point in years.

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Some experts say Kim may seek to further dial up pressure in an election year in South Korea and the United States. There are growing concerns in South Korea about a direct military provocation and a possible area of conflict could be the Koreas’ poorly drawn western sea boundary, which has been the site of several bloody skirmishes in past years.

Kim supervised the test launches of the missiles he described as key weapons for his navy. He also accused South Korea of frequently violating what he decried as North Korean territorial waters with its maritime patrols and interdiction of third-party ships. He ordered his navy to strengthen its defense posture in waters near the South Korean border islands of Baekryeong and Yeonpyeong, where a North Korean artillery bombardment killed four people in 2010.

“It doesn’t matter how many lines exist in (North Korea’s) western sea and what’s clear is that if the enemy violates what we consider as our maritime border lines, we will take that as a violation of our sovereignty and an armed provocation,” KCNA paraphrased Kim as saying.

Those comments were in line with a speech Kim gave at Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament on Jan. 15, when he reiterated that his country does not recognize the Northern Limit Line, which was drawn up by the U.S.-led U.N. Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea insists upon a boundary that encroaches deeply into waters currently controlled by South Korea.

Kim told the Supreme People’s Assembly that if South Korea “violates even 0.001 millimeter of our territorial land, air and waters, it will be considered a war provocation.” In the same speech, Kim also declared that the North was abandoning its long-standing goal of reconciliation with the South and repeated a threat that it would annihilate its rival with nukes if provoked.

KCNA also on Thursday said Kim separately inspected an unidentified munitions factory, where he issued instructions to increase the quality and quantity of the weapons produced. Photos published by state media implied that the facility produces artillery.

The United States and South Korea have accused North Korea of providing artillery shells, ballistic missiles and other military equipment to Russia to help prolong its warfighting in Ukraine, possibly in exchange for economic aid and military assistance aimed at advancing Kim’s forces. Kim in recent months has been boosting the visibility of his ties with Moscow and Beijing as he tries to break out of diplomatic isolation and join a united front against Washington.

Following a separate, year-end political conference at which Kim accused South Korea of hostility, North Korea in early January fired hundreds of artillery rounds on three consecutive days near the western sea boundary with South Korea. That prompted the South to conduct similar firings in response. The artillery firings caused no known casualties or damage on either side.

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