Forecasts conflicting on NK nuke test
By Kim Young-jin
Concern soared Wednesday over a possible third nuclear test by North Korea after a report said the isolated state was virtually ready for such provocation.
With tensions soaring over Pyongyang’s failed rocket launch on April 13, Seoul submitted a request to a U.N. Security Council committee that in retaliation the assets of more than a dozen North Korean entities be frozen.
Japan’s Kyodo News quoted a Seoul military official as saying “substantial preparations” for a nuclear test had been made at the Punggye-ri site in the northeastern part of the peninsula and that the test hinged on a “political choice” by the North.
A Seoul official said while no “particular movements” had been detected recently at the site, the government was closely monitoring the situation.
A senior official of the Joint Chiefs of Staff separately said, “It is difficult to tell whether preparations were actually being made as they would be taking place underground. Even if they carry out a test, in the past we’ve seen this can be difficult to detect.”
Intelligence officials earlier this month said that tunnels had been dug at Punggye-ri, where the North carried out underground tests in 2006 and 2009, citing satellite imagery.
The North ratcheted up regional tensions with its failed rocket launch on April 13, which it said was to put a satellite into space but was widely seen as a ballistic missile test. The U.N. Security Council deplored the move in a presidential statement.
The UNSC statement calls for the strengthening of sanctions against the country. A source in the U.N. headquarters said up to six other countries had expanded their lists of North Korean entities subject to an asset freeze.
Seoul officials have framed the potential nuclear test as a serious political choice, warning it would be met by a strong international response. Many believe such testing brings Pyongyang closer to possessing long-range missiles with nuclear capabilities.
The reported preparations are the latest in a string of eye-brow raising moves by the North following the launch of the rocket, which failed shortly after liftoff.
The report came as Pyongyang was expected to hold rallies to observe the 80th anniversary of its Korean People’s Army.
North Korean Vice Marshall Ri Yong-ho, a top player in the regime, said Wednesday his country possessed ``powerful modern weapons'' during a speech for the occasion attended by leader Kim Jong-un.
Ri stressed the importance of bolstering the military against threats from Washington and Seoul during the speech held at the April 25 House of Culture.
On Monday the North’s military said it would soon take “special actions” targeting the Lee Myung-bak administration and some media over what it claimed were disparaging remarks from Lee.
In a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, the military said the actions would last for 3 to 4 minutes and consist of “unique methods of our own style,” without elaborating further on the means.
Lee strongly urged the North against the missile launch, saying it should have used the estimated $850 million cost to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people instead.
Analysts say the North’s latest volley of vitriol aims to rally its leadership following the rocket failure, which had been built up as a moment to mark Pyongyang’s emergence as a “strong and prosperous state” in time for the 100th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il-sung.
April 25 is marked in North Korea as the official anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, tracing its lineage to the guerilla struggle against Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean peninsula.
According to the Ministry of Unification, the North maintains a 1.19 million-strong military with 1.02 million in the army.