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South Korea scrambles jets as Kim Jong Un sends warplanes near border

People watch a news broadcast showing missile launches by North Korea at a station in Seoul on Oct. 13. (Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

SEOUL — South Korea scrambled fighter jets overnight Thursday after North Korean warplanes flew close to the border dividing the two countries. The move, which was widely seen as provocative even by Pyongyang’s standards, came as the North launched another ballistic missile early Friday morning, the latest of several recent weapons tests by Kim Jong Un’s regime.

North Korean aircraft flew as close as seven miles north of a de facto maritime border between the two Koreas, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Pyongyang’s warplanes were also detected just over a dozen miles north of a land border.

The incidents took place between late Thursday and early Friday, and about 10 of Pyongyang’s warplanes were involved. North Korea also dispatched warplanes near the South last week, but the latest flights — which are considered highly unusual — veered even closer to Seoul’s airspace. The South Korean military said it “conducted an emergency sortie with its superior air force, including the F-35A” fighter jets, but no clashes were reported.

Seoul also said Pyongyang had fired artillery shells into maritime buffer areas established in 2018 as part of inter-Korean peace efforts.

“The [North] Korean People’s Army sends a stern warning to the South Korean military inciting military tension in the front-line area with reckless action,” a spokesman for the General Staff of North Korea’s army said, according to a statement carried by the state-run Central News Agency.

North Korea says it tested nuclear-capable missiles aimed at South

The official said the “countermeasures” were in response to earlier South Korean artillery fire that lasted some 10 hours. The South Korean Defense Ministry said it had conducted artillery drills at a site just south of the border with North Korea but that the exercises did not violate a 2018 military agreement.

“To mark his 10th year in office, Kim Jong Un needs to step up as a heroic leader — and he has nothing but nuclear arms to show off as achievement,” said Uk Yang, a military strategy expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

The recent military drills and tests held by the North, while threatening, also expose the limits of Pyongyang’s forces, he said. The warplanes were “antiquated” and suggest that the provocations are “signs of desperation,” he added.

North Korea says it views recent military drills by the United States, South Korea and Japan as a threat. The allies say the training exercises are defensive in nature. South Korea’s presidential office on Friday convened an emergency meeting of its National Security Council and pledged to work with allies to prepare for further provocations from the North.

Tensions continue to build while nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington remain stalled. North Korea has carried out more than 40 missile launches this year and this week, Kim supervised a cruise missile test and pledged to strengthen the regime’s nuclear arms program to ward off enemies. The North Korean leader said his nuclear forces were fully prepared for “actual war,” according to state media.

On Friday, South Korea also imposed unilateral sanctions against North Korea for the first time in roughly five years. The measures target 15 North Korean individuals and 16 organizations involved in nuclear and missile development, according to the South’s Foreign Ministry.

The short-range ballistic missile that North Korea launched Friday was fired at about 1:49 a.m. toward waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to the South Korean military. The missile flew some 435 miles and reached an altitude of about 31 miles, the JCS said.