North Korea kicks off New Year’s Eve by firing short-range ballistic missiles near South Korea

North Korea fired back-to-back ballistic missiles towards the Sea Of Japan on New Year’s Eve as part of its latest show of strength in a year marked by increasing aggression from Pyongyang.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it detected the three launches from an inland area south of Pyongyang, the North’s capital, on Saturday morning.

Japan’s Ministry of Defence also confirmed the launches saying the first ballistic missile was fired on Saturday morning shortly after 8am local time (23:00 GMT), while the second was launched 14 mins later and was followed by a third a minute afterwards.

All three missiles travelled about 220 miles before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, it said. The estimated range suggested the missiles tested could target South Korea.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launches “a grave provocation” that undermine international peace, adding that it closely monitors North Korean moves in coordination with the US and maintains a readiness to “overwhelmingly” deter any provocation.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight “the destabilising impact” of North Korea’s unlawful weapons programmes and that the US commitments to the defence of South Korea and Japan “remain ironclad”.

The latest weapons display comes on the last day of 2022, which has seen North Korea test fire nearly 80 missiles, many of them nuclear-capable weapons designed to attack the US mainland and allies South Korea and Japan.

It also came in response to South Korea’s solid-fueled rocket launch earlier this week as part of efforts to build a space-based surveillance capability to better monitor the North.

Tensions between the rival Koreas rose further earlier this week when South Korea lashed out at the North for flying five drones across the border for the first time in five years and responded by sending its own drones toward the North.

Seoul said it failed to shoot down the drones, one of which flew close to capital Seoul.

This year has been rife with tensions in the Korean peninsula. South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol’s conservative government, that took office in May, has consistently promised a tougher stance towards Pyongyang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, on the other hand, has vowed to make his country the world’s most powerful nuclear force and has become more aggressive, increasing concern among South Korea and its Western allies.