North Korea is preparing to carry out a new nuclear test, according to South Korean intelligence.
Seoul claims that recent satellite pictures show activity at the same site where North Korea carried out two previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, the Washington Post reported.
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According to Reuters, the US today called on North Korea not to carry out any nuclear test and urged China to exert its influence over the reclusive state.
"Well, our position remains: Don’t do it," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reoprters in Washington. "North Korea’s launch of a missile would be highly provocative, it would pose a threat to regional security, and it will be inconsistent with its recent undertakings to refrain from any kind of long-range missile launches."
Analysis by South Korea's intelligence agency, released to reporters yesterday, says the North appears to be digging a new underground tunnel at its Punggye-ri site. The work is said to be "in the final stages."
In addition, earth has been collected from other areas and heaped around the tunnel entrance, NBC News said. According to the South's report, the earth would be needed to plug the tunnel prior to an underground nuclear test, similar to the two earlier ones.
The report comes as North Korea prepares to launch a long-range rocket that it says will put a satellite into orbit. South Korea, the US and other allies, however, claim the project is really intended to test ballistic missile technology.
The South believes Pyongyang will use the international condemnation it attracts with the launch as an excuse to proceed to a nuclear test, CNN reported.
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Some commentators have suggested that the South Korean government is attempting to exploit the issue to win conservative support ahead of parliamentary elections this Wednesday, the Washington Post noted.
Liberal South Korean newspaper the Hankyoreh, for example, questioned the timing of the report's release, since intelligence authorities acknowledge that excavation work was known to have begun at Punggye-ri at least one year ago.
North Korea carried out nuclear tests at the site in Oct. 2006 and May 2009, after which the United Nation Security Council forbade it from conducting any further nuclear test or launch involving ballistic missile technology.
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