N Korea fires artillery shells in ‘grave warning’ to Seoul

North Korea fired 350 rounds along its east and west coasts near the border with South Korea after Seoul began a defense drill.

North Korea has fired hundreds of artillery rounds along its east and west coasts as South Korea conducts annual defense drills aimed at boosting its ability to respond to nuclear and missile threats from Pyongyang.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said North Korea fired about 250 shells late on Tuesday along its east and west coasts and launched an additional 100 rounds on Wednesday afternoon.

It said the shells did not land in South Korea’s territorial waters but fell within a maritime buffer zone established by the two Koreas under a 2018 inter-Korean agreement aimed at de-escalating hostilities.

It was the second time North Korea fired into the buffer zone since last Friday when it fired hundreds of rounds there in the most significant direct violation of the 2018 accord.

“We strongly urge North Korea to immediately stop its actions,” the JCS said in a statement.

“North Korea’s continued provocative actions are actions that undermine the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” it said.

A spokesman for North Korea’s People’s Army (KPA) said on Wednesday that the shots were designed to send a “serious warning” to South Korea in response to its own artillery training in the eastern border region on Tuesday. Seoul did not immediately confirm whether any such fire had been fired.

South Korea’s Hoguk drills, which are set to end on Saturday, are the latest in a series of military exercises conducted in recent weeks, including joint activities with the United States and Japan.

The KPA General Staff said South Korea’s “war drills against the North are continuing in a frenzy”.

“To once again send a dire warning, KPA units on both the Eastern and Western fronts have ensured that on the night of October 18, a threatening, warning shot was fired in the direction of the East and West Seas as a powerful military countermeasure.” said in a statement released by state media KCNA.

“The enemy must immediately stop reckless and provocative provocations that increase military tension in the front areas.”

North Korea’s artillery tests attract less attention than its missile launches. But long-range artillery deployed ahead of it poses a serious security threat to South Korea’s populous metropolitan region, about 40 to 50 km (25 to 30 mi) from the North Korean border.

In recent weeks, North Korea has conducted weapons tests simulating nuclear strikes on South Korean and US targets in response to its “dangerous military drills” involving a US aircraft carrier. Pyongyang views regular military exercises between Washington and Seoul as rehearsals for an invasion.

North Korea has tested 15 missiles since resuming test activity on September 25. One of them is an intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan and demonstrated a range capable of reaching the Pacific US territory of Guam and beyond.

Tokyo on Tuesday imposed additional sanctions on North Korea, targeting five organizations and four trading companies, including Pyongyang’s Ministry of Rocket Industry.

“North Korea continues a series of provocative actions with high frequency, such as launching ballistic missiles 23 times this year,” Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said in announcing the new measures.

He added that Pyongyang’s actions were “violent” and “totally unacceptable”.

South Korea also imposed its first unilateral sanctions on North Korea in nearly five years, blacklisting 15 North Korean individuals and 16 entities involved in missile development on Friday.

Some foreign experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will eventually aim to use his expanding arsenal to pressure the U.S. and others to accept his country as a legitimate nuclear state and lift economic sanctions on North Korea.

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