North Korea has fired several “unidentified” cruise missiles that flew over waters off its eastern coast housing a major military shipyard, according to officials in Seoul.
It comes just four days after Kim Jong-un test-fired what North Korean media described as a new kind of nuclear-capable cruise missile.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said they detected the missiles over waters near the North Korean port of Sinpo at around 8am local time on Sunday.
It said South Korean and US intelligence agencies are currently analysing the incident.
The South Korean military did not share more specific details regarding the projectiles launched, the total number of missiles fired or the distance they travelled. It was also not immediately clear whether the missiles were fired from land or naval assets.
“The ROK (South Korean) military is maintaining close contact with the US, while enhancing surveillance and vigilance, and is monitoring further signs and activities of North Korea,” according to the statement.
North Korea’s state media has not yet confirmed the weapons test.
Sunday’s launch comes four days after North Korea test-fired the “Pulhwasl-3-31”, describing the test as part of regular efforts to develop its military. The North also described the missile as “strategic”, suggesting its likely intent to mount it with nuclear weapons. On 14 January, North Korea said it had launched its first solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile.
The series of weapons tests have served to heighten tensions in the region with neighbours South Korea and Japan, both US allies. North Korea recently increased its military presence at the border with the South after the breakdown of a pact designed to reduce the chances of a deadly flare-up between border guards.
Earlier this month, Kim Jong-un declared South Korea his “primary foe and invariable principal enemy” and ordered the destruction of the Arch of Reunification in the capital Pyongyang, a monument built by his father Kim Jong-il to the idea of the peaceful reunification of the Koreas.
North Korea claims its launches are a response to joint military drills and strategy summits held by its three main rivals, which it describes as rehearsals for an invasion. The US, South Korea and Japan say they are necessary to prepare a united defence against potential North Korean aggression.
North Korea’s cruise missile development is an important part of its overall nuclear weapons programme, which the country has continued to pursue despite UN sanctions and condemnation from its neighbours.
The UN Security Council imposed its first sanctions after North Korea tested a large nuclear bomb in 2006, and has expanded them over the years to a total of 10 resolutions seeking – so far unsuccessfully – to cut funds and curb the Kim dynasty’s technical development of nuclear and ballistic weapons.
South Korea recently called on the divided UN Security Council “to break the silence” over North Korea’s escalating missile tests and threats.
So far, North Korea’s military arsenal includes its huge lineup of ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the American military bases in Japan and the US.
However, its cruise missiles often attract less attention than ballistic missiles, as they are not explicitly prohibited by any United Nations Security Council resolutions.