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North Korea confirms ballistic missile launch

North Korea has test-fired a tactical ballistic missile equipped with a “new autonomous navigation system”, state media said, with leader Kim Jong-un vowing to boost the country’s nuclear force.

Mr Kim oversaw yesterday’s test-launch into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, on a mission to evaluate the “accuracy and reliability of the autonomous navigation system”, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The launch was the latest in a string of ever more sophisticated tests by North Korea, which has fired off cruise missiles, tactical rockets and hypersonic weapons in recent months, in what the nuclear-armed, UN-sanctioned country says is a drive to upgrade its defences.

The launch came hours after Mr Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong denied allegations by South Korea and the US that Pyongyang is shipping weapons to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine.

Seoul’s military described the test as “several flying objects presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles” from North Korea’s eastern Wonsan area into waters off its coast.

The suspected missiles travelled around 300km before splashing down in waters between South Korea and Japan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said.

“The accuracy and reliability of the autonomous navigation system were verified through the test fire,” Pyongyang’s KCNA said this morning, adding the Mr Kim expressed “great satisfaction” over the launch.

In a separate report, KCNA said Mr Kim visited a military production facility the previous day and urged for “more rapidly bolstering the nuclear force” of the nation “without halt and hesitation”.

Yonhapnews TV shows Kim Jong-un inspecting a new tactical missile weapons system

During the visit, he said the “enemies would be afraid of and dare not to play with fire only when they witness the nuclear combat posture of our state”, according to KCNA.

Pyongyang’s nuclear force “will meet a very important change and occupy a remarkably raised strategic position” when its munitions production plan, aimed to be completed by 2025, is carried out, it added.

South Korea and the US have accused North Korea of sending arms to Russia, which would violate rafts of United Nations sanctions on both countries, with experts saying the recent spate of testing may be of weapons destined for use on battlefields in Ukraine.

North Korea is barred by UN sanctions from any tests using ballistic technology, but its key ally Moscow used its UN Security Council veto in March to effectively end UN monitoring of violations, for which Pyongyang has specifically thanked Russia.

But Ms Kim said that Pyongyang had “no intention to export our military technical capabilities to any country”, adding that the North’s priority was “to make the war readiness and war deterrent of our army more perfect in quality and quantity”.

Yesterday’s launches come as Russian leader Vladimir Putin was in China, the final day of a visit aiming to promote crucial trade with Beijing – North Korea’s most important ally – and win greater support for his war effort in Ukraine.

North Korea’s latest weapons tests were likely intended to attract the attention of Mr Putin while he was in China, said Ahn Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies.

The North would benefit greatly from an expected visit by Mr Putin to Pyongyang, and “they want their country to be used as a military logistics base during Russia’s ongoing war (in Ukraine)”, he said.

Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said: “China and Russia’s irresponsible handling of North Korea, riding on the new Cold War dynamics, is further encouraging Pyongyang’s nuclear armament.”

Inter-Korean relations are at one of their lowest points in years, with Pyongyang declaring Seoul its “principal enemy”.

It has jettisoned agencies dedicated to reunification and threatened war over “even 0.001 mm” of territorial infringement.

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