SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea fired alleged artillery shells into the sea on Sunday, the South Korean military said a few days after North Korea’s last missile launch failed amid a recent explosion in the country’s weapons test.

There are speculations that North Korea may soon try to launch its most developed long-range ballistic missile to strengthen its arsenal and put pressure on the United States to make concessions as talks remain deadlocked. The South Korean military suggested that the North Korean air missile explosion last Wednesday involved parts of the Hwasong-17 missile, its largest weapon.

On Sunday, South Korea’s defense ministry said it had discovered shootings, probably from rocket-propelled grenade launchers off North Korea’s west coast. The ministry said the military was closely monitoring North Korea’s steps and maintaining readiness.

The South Korean president’s office said in a separate statement that it had held an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss what it called “short-range projectile launches.”

Council members worked to analyze the details of the shelling in close coordination with the United States, the report said. The statement added that South Korea would use its expanded military capabilities and its alliance with the United States to prevent a security vacuum during the transition in Seoul.

President Moon Jae-in’s only five-year term expires in May and will be replaced by a new Conservative government led by Yun Suk Yol. Former Attorney General Yun has vowed to strengthen Seoul’s military alliance with Washington and achieve a stronger US commitment to security to neutralize North Korea’s growing nuclear threats.

The failed missile launch on Wednesday was the North’s 10th weapons launch this year. The U.S. and South Korean military said they had concluded that two of North Korea’s recent launches until Wednesday were designed to test the Hwasong-17 system. North Korea later said the launches were designed to test cameras and other systems for spy satellites.

Some outside experts say North Korea is likely to launch a Hwasong-17 rocket to test its long-range missile technology, as well as launch its first active spy satellite into orbit. A potential maximum flight range of Hwasong-17 of 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles) would place the entire continental United States within range, and its enormous size suggests that it could carry a large payload or multiple nuclear warheads.

The launch of Hwasong-17, if held, would be the North’s most serious provocation since the country conducted three intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2017.

The South Korean government did not immediately disclose where the gunfire took place on Sunday. The poorly marked western maritime border of Korea was the cause of naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009. In 2010, attacks on North Korea in the area killed 50 South Koreans – 46 on a warship and four on a border island.

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