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North Korea fires two ballistic missiles amid US-fueled tensions on Korean peninsula

North Korea has fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea off its east coast, less than a week after the country launched two mid-range missiles amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula fueled by the US.

South Korea’s military said the missiles were fired from the Sunan area of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang Friday, with Japan’s coast guard also reporting a suspected ballistic missile launch.

“Our military spotted two short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea into the East Sea from the Sunan area of Pyongyang at around 16:32 (0732 GMT) today,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement, referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.

The official said such launches are a “serious provocation that harms peace and stability” on the Korean Peninsula.

“We will track and monitor developments together with the United States in preparation for additional provocations by North Korea while maintaining a firm readiness posture based on our ability to overwhelmingly respond to any provocations by North Korea,” he was quoted as saying.

Japan’s State Minister of Defense Toshiro Ino said his country has lodged a strong protest to North Korea through diplomatic channels in Beijing.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno also condemned the latest launch as “absolutely unacceptable”.

“North Korea’s rapid escalation of provocations in a series of actions threatens the peace and security of Japan’s region and the international community,” he said.

Friday’s launch follows a year of multiple tests by North Korea, including the launch of its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile last month, and this weekend’s development of new capabilities to take images from space.

On Sunday, Pyongyang launched what South Korean officials called two medium-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea, with the North later describing them as an “important” test for the reconnaissance satellite program it plans to complete by April.

The United States and South Korea have claimed for months that North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test.

Pyongyang’s new tests come as military tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen sharply this year, with the US resuming massive land, naval and aerial war games with South Korean and Japanese forces in the region – measures that North Korea regards as practice drills to invade the country.

The United States and South Korea held a joint air drill on Tuesday and deployed a US B-52H strategic bomber to the Korean Peninsula, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The long-range heavy bomber was part of an exercise that included the US and South Korea’s most advanced jets, including the F-22 and the F-35 stealth fighters.

North Korea has on numerous occasions maintained that it will not tolerate US-led war games in the region, vowing to continue responding with its own drills.

The country is reeling under multiple UN Security Council sanctions since 2006, but the measures have not prevented it from expanding its nuclear and missile capabilities as a deterrent against hostile West-led moves.

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