North Korea has fired an "unspecified ballistic missile", the South's military said Friday, the latest in a blitz of launches by Pyongyang, as Seoul warns Kim Jong Un may be close to conducting another nuclear test.
"North Korea fires unspecified ballistic missile towards the East Sea," Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.
The JCS statement did not give further details.
With talks long-stalled, tensions on the peninsula are at their highest point in years, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month declaring his country an "irreversible" nuclear power, effectively ending negotiations over his banned weapons programmes.
On Tuesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said the North was poised to conduct another nuclear test, which would be its seventh.
"It appears they have already completed preparations for a seventh nuclear test," he told parliament Tuesday during a budget speech.
On Wednesday, the United States, Japan and South Korea said that a North Korean nuclear test would warrant an "unprecedentedly strong response", vowing unity between the regional security allies.
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This month, North Korea has fired multiple artillery barrages into a maritime "buffer zone" that was set up in 2018 as a way of reducing tensions with the South during a period of ill-fated diplomacy.
It also announced it had staged what it called "tactical nuclear drills" that simulated showering the South with nuke-tipped missiles.
The moves are part of a dramatic increase this year in what Seoul calls "provocations" by the North, including conducting its longest-ever missile launch by distance, which overflew Japan and prompted rare evacuation warnings.
Seoul has also recently conducted live-fire drills, and the US re-deployed a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the region to conduct large-scale trilateral drills also involving Tokyo.
Such drills infuriate Pyongyang, which sees them as rehearsals for invasion and justifies its blitz of missile launches as necessary "countermeasures".
Seoul and Washington have repeatedly warned that Pyongyang could be close to testing an atomic bomb for the first time since 2017, after a flurry of ballistic missile launches.
Kim has made developing tactical nukes -- smaller, battlefield-ready weapons -- a priority, and Seoul recently warned the North could be preparing to conduct multiple consecutive nuclear tests as part of this drive.
Analysts say Pyongyang's confidence that gridlock at the United Nations will protect it from further sanctions has emboldened it to continue its weapons testing.
At a recent UN Security Council meeting to discuss Pyongyang's launch over Japan, North Korea's longtime ally and economic benefactor China blamed Washington for provoking the spate of missile tests.
The Security Council has been divided on responding to Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions for months, with Russia and China on the sympathetic side and the rest of the council pushing for punishment.
© Agence France-Presse