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Seoul – North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Monday, the South’s military and Japan said, a move that ratcheted up tensions over the North’s quest to develop weapons capable of hitting the United States.

Replicas of a North Korean Scud-B missile (L) and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles (C) are displayed at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul on May 29, 2017.
North Korea on May 29 test-fired a ballistic missile, the latest in a series of launches that have ratcheted up tensions over its quest to develop weapons capable of hitting the United States. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je/ Manila Bulletin

The test is the latest launch by Pyongyang this year as the isolated regime steps up efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that can deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States.

The missile launches, and Pyongyang’s threat to stage its sixth nuclear test, have prompted calls for tougher UN sanctions and a warning from US President Donald Trump that military intervention was an option under consideration.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the “unidentified ballistic missile (speculated to be a Scud)” was fired from the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan at 5:09 am (2139 GMT) and travelled in an eastward direction.

“The flight range is about 450km (280 miles),” the statement said, adding that South Korean and US experts were analyzing the event for further detail.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters the missile appeared to have fallen into the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) — waters extending 200 nautical miles from its coast.

“Our country can never tolerate repeated provocative actions by North Korea,” he said, condemning the launch.

The regime has carried out two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the beginning of last year, with multiple sets of UN sanctions failing to halt its weapons push.

In Washington, a National Security Council spokesman said President Trump had been briefed on the launch.

South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-In, ordered a meeting of the National Security Council to assess the launch, the defense ministry said.

Following North Korea’s test-firing of what analysts said was its longest-range rocket yet earlier this month, the UN Security Council vowed to push all countries to tighten sanctions against Pyongyang.

But China, the North’s main trade partner and ally, has made it clear that the push for diplomatic talks — not imposing more sanctions — was the priority.

The United States has said it is willing to enter into talks with North Korea — but only if it halts its missile and nuclear tests.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has sought to ramp up the country’s weapons program under his rule, saying the regime needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion.

The Security Council adopted two sanctions resolutions last year to pile pressure on Pyongyang and deny the regime the hard currency needed to fund its military programs.

In all, six sets of sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since it first tested an atomic device in 2006.

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