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South Korean military: North Korea launched two ballistic missiles Sunday

Profile photo; In Seoul, people are watching news reports of North Korea's ballistic missile launch towards the east coast.
Profile photo; In Seoul, people are watching news reports of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch toward the east coast.

WASHINGTON — The South Korean military said North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on Sunday. A few days ago, Pyongyang announced the successful testing of a solid-fuel engine for a new weapons system.

Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have escalated sharply this year, with Pyongyang conducting unprecedented weapons tests, including last month’s launch of the North’s most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile ever.

South Korea’s General Staff said the South Korean military detected two ballistic missiles launched from the Dongchang-RI area of North Pyongan Province.

The South Korean military said the missile was launched Sunday from 11:13 a.m. (0213 GMT) to 12:05 p.m. to the East Sea, a body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.

“Our military has stepped up surveillance and vigilance while working closely with the United States to maintain full combat readiness,” the South Korean General Staff added in a statement.

Sunday’s missile launch came just three days after North Korea tested a “high-thrust solid-fuel engine” that state media described as a major test to “develop another new strategic weapons system.”

Despite tough international sanctions on North Korea’s weapons program, Pyongyang has built up an intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal.

However, North Korea’s existing ICBMs are propelled by liquid fuel, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has made the development of solid-fuel engines for more advanced missiles a strategic priority.

Kim Jong-un said this year that he wanted North Korea to have the world’s most powerful nuclear force and declared it an “irreversible” nuclear power.

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His wish list, which he revealed last year, includes solid-fuel ICBMs that can be launched from land or submarines.

Analysts say the latest engine tests are a step toward that goal, but it’s unclear how much progress North Korea has made in developing the missile.

Mr. Kim announced last month after overseeing the launch of the Hwasong-17 Monster missile that he wanted North Korea to have the world’s most powerful nuclear force.

The isolated country’s policy direction for next year will be set at a key party meeting later this month, and North Korea’s official KCNA news agency reported earlier that Kim Jong-un said 2023 would be a “historic year.”

In past years, Kim Jong-un has spoken on January 1 every year but recently abandoned the tradition in favor of a statement at the Workers’ Party plenary session at the end of the year.

In his most recent speech on New Year’s Day last year, Mr. Kim focused on domestic affairs.

Experts say that while Kim’s speech last year was not directed at the United States, he may change his tone this time.

The United States and South Korea have been warning for months that this could happen as North Korea conducts its seventh nuclear test.

This year, North Korea has fired an unprecedented number of missiles in defiance of international sanctions. According to statistics released by North Korea’s official media, as of the 18th of last month, North Korea has launched 36 ballistic missiles, 62 ballistic missiles, and launched cruise missiles three times.

Since 2006, North Korea has been repeatedly sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council for its nuclear and missile activities.

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(This article is based on a report by AFP.)

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