North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the sea, South Korea's defence minister has said.

The launch was first reported by the Japanese coast guard early on Wednesday, before being confirmed by defence authorities in Seoul later.

The UN prohibits North Korea from ballistic and nuclear weapons tests. This is the first missile launch by Pyongyang after leader Kim Jong-Un pledged to bolster the country's defence capabilities last month.

South Korean and US intelligence are closely analysing for further detail, the Seoul's Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

Japan's defence minister Nobuo Kishi said the ballistic missile had flown about 500 km, according to a news agency.

In 2017, North Korea tested the Hwasong-15, a missile that peaked at an estimated altitude of 4,500km, putting US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam well within striking distance.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the latest launch very regrettable, pointing to North Korea's repeated testing of missiles since 2021.

In 2021, North Korea continued the advancement of its weapons programme, conducting what state media reported as the testing of a new hypersonic missile, as well as a train-based ballistic missile and a new long-range cruise missile.

Ballistic missiles are considered more threatening than cruise missiles because they can carry more powerful payloads, have a longer range and can fly faster.
The tests come as Pyongyang struggles with food shortages due to a coronavirus blockade that has affected its economy.

At the end-of-year meeting, Mr Kim said the country was facing a great life-and-death struggle, adding that increasing development and improving people's living standards were among this year's goals.

United Nations officials had earlier warned that vulnerable children and elderly people in North Korea were at risk of starvation.

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