North Korea leader's sister denies arms exchange with Russia, KCNA says

FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Putin and North Korea's leader Kim meet in Amur region

By Ju-min Park and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) -Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, again denied arms exchanges with Russia, state media KCNA reported on Friday, saying her nation's recently developed and updated weapons systems were not for sale to any other countries.

The U.S. and South Korea accused North Korea of transferring weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine, which it invaded in February 2022. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the accusations, but vowed last year to deepen military relations.

Ties between the two countries have strengthened dramatically following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's visit to Russia's far east in September and a summit with President Vladimir Putin.

But Kim Yo Jong said the North Korea-Russia arms deal "theory" made up of prejudice and fiction was the "most absurd theory" that does not deserve anyone's evaluation or interpretation, according to KCNA quoting her press statement, calling it a false rumour spread by its hostile forces.

Kim Yo Jong added North Korea's tactical weapons such as rocket launchers and missiles recently shown were not meant for exports, but for defence against South Korea.

North and South Korea remain technically at war because their 1950 to 1953 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Over the last month, North Korea has deployed thousands of troops as well as heavy equipment such as excavators as it lays mines and barbed wire and builds guard posts along the already heavily armed border with South Korea, South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo reported on Friday, citing multiple government sources.

South Korea's defence ministry said in a statement that it was closely monitoring the North Korean military's activities but declined to elaborate further, citing the safety of South Korean soldiers.

Meanwhile, the United States announced fresh sanctions on Thursday on two Russian individuals and three Russian companies for facilitating arms transfers between Russia and North Korea, including ballistic missiles for use in Ukraine.

The debris from a missile that landed in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Jan. 2 was from a North Korean Hwasong-11 series ballistic missile, United Nations sanctions monitors told a Security Council committee in a report seen by Reuters.

The leaders of North Korea's major partners China and Russia met on Thursday and criticised Washington and its allies for their "intimidation in the military sphere" against North Korea, according to a joint statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Against the backdrop of stronger security ties and three-way joint drills between the United States, South Korea and Japan, U.S. and South Korean stealth fighters staged joint air combat drills on Thursday, South Korea's air force said.

Amid a growing partnership between Moscow and Pyongyang, North Korea's ambassador to Russia on Thursday called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy a U.S. puppet, and said Russia would emerge victorious in its conflict with Kyiv, KCNA reported.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Josh Smith; Editing by Jamie Freed)