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North Korea flies warplanes near border, fires short-range ballistic missile

South Korea puts F-35 fighter jet on public display in Seoul during Armed Forces Day, Oct. 1, 2019. (File photo by Reuters)

North Korea has flown warplanes near its border with South Korea before firing a short-range ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast.

The missile lifted off from the North’s capital region at 1:49 a.m. (12:49 p.m. EDT Thursday), according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The north's military said it took "strong military countermeasures" after South Korean artillery-fire drills on Thursday, according to North Korea's official KCNA news agency.

"Taking a serious note of this provocative action by the South Korean military in the frontline area, we took strong military countermeasures," KCNA quoted a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People's Army (KPA) as saying.

"The KPA sends a stern warning to the South Korean military inciting military tension in the frontline area with reckless action."

Meanwhile, a group of about 10 North Korean military aircraft had carried out a sortie close to the border dividing the two countries late Thursday and early Friday, prompting Seoul to scramble F-35 fighter jets.

The 10 aircraft from the North flew as close as 7 miles from the inter-Korean border, according to South Korea’s military.

They crossed the “reconnaissance line”, which triggers an automatic operational response, it said.

South Korean forces “conducted an emergency sortie with its superior air force, including the F-35A, and maintained a response posture while carrying out a proportional response maneuver corresponding to the flight of a North Korean military aircraft,” it said.

“Our military is maintaining a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States,” the Joint Chiefs said, according to Yonhap news agency.

KCNA also said the north’s leader Kim Jong-un had supervised the launch of two long-range cruise missiles on Wednesday, adding that the weapons were equipped to carry tactical nukes and had already been deployed to some army units.

The frequency of North Korea's missile launches come amid heightened tensions in the region.

In July, Kim said his country is fully ready to use nuclear weapons in any military confrontation with the United States and South Korea.

The latest tensions have further raised the specter of Pyongyang making preparations to resume testing of nuclear bombs, especially as peace talks between the US and the North failed and Washington has been imposing new sanctions against Pyongyang.

The United States has threatened to impose even harsher sanctions against the North Korean nation if Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test.

In the meantime, North Korea has test-fired a number of missiles, including massive intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), new hypersonic missiles, and missiles designed for tactical nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang maintains that its weapons tests are a defensive measure against threats posed by the massive presence of US forces near its territorial waters and the regular holding of joint US-led war games with Japan with South Korea.

North Korea’s leader had held three meetings with former US President Donald Trump in his pursuit of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

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