Gov’t denies North is planning 3rd nuke test

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Gov’t denies North is planning 3rd nuke test

The South Korean government and military officials were quick yesterday to swat down speculation about a third possible nuclear test in North Korea.

The Chosun Ilbo yesterday, citing a government source, reported that vehicle movement and people possibly preparing for a nuclear test had been detected in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong, by a United States satellite. North Korea conducted its previous two nuclear tests at the same location in October 2006 and last May.

“I have heard that there has been continuous movements in the area, of people and vehicles, after the nuclear test on May 2 last year, but there have not been any clear indications that [North Korea is] preparing a third nuclear test,” said a high-ranking South Korean government official when asked about yesterday’s report.

Another South Korean military official who asked for anonymity acknowledged that there had been movement in the area, but “right now is not the situation for North Korea to be conducting a nuclear test.”

“We suspect they have made several underground tunnels to conduct nuclear tests at any time,” he said. “Even if North Korea does execute a third nuclear test, judging from prior experience, it will be very difficult to determine that a test will happen until right before it does.”

Other officials said movements in the area could be explained by regular maintenance activities since the location is “strategically important” to North Korea.

North Korea’s previous nuclear tests were displays of leader Kim Jong-il’s strength at home and the regime’s desire to remind the world of its nuclear program. Last year’s test, which North Korea said was stronger than the first, resulted in international condemnation - including criticism from U.S. President Barack Obama - and froze relations between the two Koreas.

Pyongyang’s positive gestures toward the South in an effort to improve relations were additional reasons for doubting an imminent nuclear test. In recent weeks, Pyongyang has asked for aid and suggested that the two Koreas hold a reunion for family members separated by the Korean War.

The reunion will be held at the end of the month. North and South Korea’s Red Crosses are also to hold meetings next week to discuss humanitarian issues.

By Christine Kim, Kim Min-seok []
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