Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  
Front Page

Activity spotted at North Korea nuclear test site

South Korean officials said yesterday activity had been spotted near a suspected nuclear test site in North Korea but there was no evidence to suggest Pyongyang was about to test another atomic device.

ABC News had earlier quoted a US defence official as saying that North Korea appeared to have made preparations for a second nuclear test. Its first, on October 9 last year, drew worldwide condemnation and punitive UN sanctions.

"We think they've put everything in place to conduct a test without any notice or warning," the US television network quoted the official as saying.

In response, a US official said he had no reason to believe North Korea was preparing for a test -- and there was in fact considerable uncertainty within the US government about whether Pyongyang had any intention of conducting one.

The United States monitors North Korea by satellite and spy planes that fly along the fringes of the reclusive communist state's airspace to watch for suspicious movements.

"Certain activities have been detected near a suspected North Korean nuclear test site but currently there are no specific indications related to an additional test," said a South Korean source familiar with the North's nuclear programme.

The source asked not to be named and declined to explain how the latest movements were spotted.

Another government official in Seoul said vehicle and personnel movement had been spotted near the site of the North's first test, Yonhap news agency reported.

That official said, however, that there were no signs of cables being laid or electronic monitors being installed, which might indicate a test was imminent.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, meeting US officials in Washington, did not discuss reports of an impending test, Yonhap cited a senior South Korean official as saying.

"South Korea and the US consistently share information," the official said. "So far, we have not heard about an imminent test."

The ABC report said intelligence was inconclusive, but the preparations in hand were similar to steps taken by North Korea before its October 9 test. Many analysts say that first test was not fully successful.

The two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China failed in their latest round of talks in Beijing last month to make any progress in efforts to have the North suspend its nuclear programmes in exchange for aid and pledges not to attack it.

North Korea was rebuffed at those talks in its insistence that it be treated as a nuclear power.

South Korea's Defence Ministry said last week that North Korea has probably extracted more than 50 kg (110 lb) of plutonium since 1994, with more than 30 kg obtained since 2003 while it was engaged in the six-country negotiations.

North Korea hailed its nuclear test as "an auspicious event for the nation" in editorials in official media to welcome the New Year, adding that it planned a further boost to its military strength.

"The DPRK's (North Korea's) nuclear deterrent serves as a powerful force for defending peace and security in Northeast Asia and guaranteeing the victorious advance of the cause of independence," one editorial said.