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North Korean leader’s powerful sister says warplanes repelled US spy plane

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un alleged that the country’s warplanes repelled a US spy plane flying over nearby waters Monday and warned of “shocking” consequences if the US continues reconnaissance in the area.

The United States and South Korea dismissed the North’s accusations and urged it to refrain from any acts or rhetoric that raises animosities.

It’s unclear if North Korea would follow through. It has made numerous similar threats over alleged US reconnaissance activities, but its latest statement came amid heightened animosities over North Korea’s barrage of missile tests earlier this year.

Kim Yo Jong, one of her brother’s top foreign policy officials, claimed that the US spy plane reached into the North’s eastern exclusive economic zone eight times Monday. In a statement carried by state media Monday night, she claimed that the North scrambled warplanes to chase away the US plane.

“A shocking incident would occur in the long run in the 20 to 40 kilometre section in which the US spy planes habitually intrude into the sky above the economic water zone” of North Korea, Kim Yo Jong said.

Earlier Monday, North Korea’s Defence Ministry accused the US of flying a strategic reconnaissance plane into its “inviolable airspace” several times and warning that approaching aircraft might be shot down.

While the Defence Ministry statement seemed to imply an intrusion into North Korean territorial airspace, Kim Yo Jong accused the US of conducting aerial surveillance over the North’s exclusive economic zone, the area within 200 nautical miles of its territory where it controls rights to natural resources.

Sabrina Singh, deputy Pentagon press secretary, called the North’s claim on the airspace violation “just accusations.”

“The United States, as always, remains committed to safely and responsibly flying, sailing, operating anywhere that international law allows and alongside our allies and partners,” Singh said.

Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said the United States urges North Korea to refrain from “escalatory actions” and engage in serious diplomacy.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff denied that the US had flown any spy plane into North Korean territory. Spokesperson Lee Sung Joon said at a briefing that the US was conducting standard reconnaissance activities in coordination with South Korea’s military.

Later Monday, the South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a second statement that it strongly urges North Korea to stop rhetoric that raises tensions over “normal flight by the Korea-US alliance over open waters.”

Early Tuesday, Kim Yo Jong issued another statement reasserting that intensifying US reconnaissance activities were encroaching on the North’s sovereignty and that the US forces would “experience a very critical flight” if they continue with their illegal intrusions.

Earlier this year, tensions on the Korean Peninsula rose sharply as the pace of North Korean weapon tests and US-South Korea joint military exercises have intensified. North Korea has test-fired nearly 100 missiles since the start of 2022 as Kim Jong Un expands a nuclear arsenal he apparently sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

The United States stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression by North Korea.

File photo of Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam on March 2, 2019. PHOTO: AP