North Korea Launches Ballistic Missile Toward Sea, South Korea Says

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, inspects as he tours munitions factories in North Korea on Jan. 8-9, 2024. Photo: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea on Sunday, its first missile launch in about a month, its neighbors said.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launch occurred Sunday but gave no further details like how far the weapon flew.

Japan’s Defense Ministry also said it detected a possible ballistic missile launch by North Korea but gave no other details.

It is the North's first missile launch since it test-fired its Hwasong-18 solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile, the North's most advanced weapon, on Dec. 18. The Hwasong-18 is designed to strike the mainland U.S.

Sunday's launch came days after North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells near the tense sea border with South Korea, prompting South Korea to conduct similar firing exercises in the same area.

In recent days, North Korea has also been escalating its warlike rhetoric against its rivals. Earlier this week, leader Kim Jong Un called South Korea “our principal enemy” and threatened to annihilate it if provoked.

Experts say Kim will likely further raise animosities by test-firing more missiles to try to raise the stakes in the standoff with his rivals and influence the results of South Korea’s parliamentary elections in April and the U.S. presidential election in November.

In a key ruling party meeting in late December, Kim vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal and launch additional spy satellites to cope with what he called U.S.-led confrontational moves.

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