People watch news coverage of a North Korean ballistic missile launch on Friday. Pyongyang fired a missile, shot rounds of artillery and sent warplanes near the inter-Korean border in its latest military provocation. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
SEOUL, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- North Korea fired a ballistic missile, shot artillery into maritime buffer zones and flew 10 warplanes near the inter-Korean border overnight Friday, South Korean military officials said, as Pyongyang continues to ramp up its provocations to their highest level in years.
Seoul responded by imposing its first unilateral sanctions since 2017, placing 15 North Korean individuals and 16 institutions involved in the North's weapons of mass destruction program on a blacklist, the country's foreign ministry announced. The move is considered largely symbolic, as almost all transactions between the two Koreas are already prohibited. The entities are also already sanctioned by the United States, the ministry said.
North Korea launched one short-range ballistic missile from the Sunan airfield in Pyongyang into the East Sea in the early hours of Friday morning, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a message to reporters. The missile traveled about 435 miles and reached a height of roughly 31 miles.
The secretive regime also fired around 130 rounds of artillery into the waters of the Yellow Sea, and 40 rounds into the East Sea, the JCS said.
The shots landed in eastern and western buffer zones north of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto inter-Korean maritime border. The areas were delineated under a 2018 military agreement signed by the two Koreas in order to reduce tensions.
The Joint Chiefs said that the launches into the buffer zones were a "clear violation" of the September 2018 military agreement, which was signed at a summit in Pyongyang between then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a period of diplomatic engagement.
"The military sternly warns that continued provocations are causing military tension on the Korean Peninsula, and strongly urges an immediate halt to them," the JCS said in a statement.
The North Korean military, officially called the Korean People's Army, said shortly after the artillery firing that the rounds were "strong military countermeasures" to what it claimed was a 10-hour South Korean artillery exercise.
The army "sends a stern warning to the [S]outh Korean military inciting military tension in the frontline area with reckless action," the KPA statement carried in the state-run Korean Central News Agency read.
Seoul defense officials later said that the exercise referred to an artillery drill held by U.S. Forces Korea on Thursday at a firing range in Cheorwon, a location near the border with North Korea.
The North's missile and artillery launches came shortly after it flew 10 military aircraft near the no-fly zones of both land and sea borders from late Thursday into early Friday, prompting South Korea to scramble planes, including stealth F-35A fighter jets, the JCS said.
On Thursday, North Korea announced that it had successfully tested nuclear-capable long-range cruise missiles. Earlier in the week, Pyongyang said that a recent flurry of ballistic missile launches were simulated nuclear weapon attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets