North resumes excavation activity

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North resumes excavation activity

Activity has resumed at North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, the website 38 North said on Wednesday.

Satellite imagery of the nuclear test site in Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province, taken between April 14 and 19, shows resumed excavation activity and vehicles outside the entrance of the North Portal area, the site of the 2009 and 2013 tests.

Also, at the West Portal on April 19, there appear to be small carts crossing the road from the tunnel entrance to the spoil pile, suggesting that “tunnel excavation operations are about to resume, or have recently resumed, for the first time this year,” said 38 North, a site run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

“Excavation operations can be undertaken concurrently with preparations for a nuclear test,” the site posted, “as was the case during the run-up to this January’s detonation. Such a concurrent activity could be part of the North’s camouflage, concealment and deception procedures for the facility.”

The website said there remains the possibility of an impending test, although the activities at the two nuclear test sites themselves do not establish that test preparations are imminent.

“Pyongyang has clearly demonstrated, with its fourth nuclear detonation this past January, its ability to conduct detonations on short notice while masking indicators of its preparation from satellite view,” it said.

As the North’s fifth nuclear test is expected to be carried out a few days before or after the 7th Congress of Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang in early May, leaders in Seoul, Washington and Tokyo pledged to take additional measures if the North indeed conducts another such test.

The top U.S. diplomat for the Asia-Pacific region, Danny Russel, told Reuters on Tuesday that the three allies could also take “defense-related measures” in the event of a fifth nuclear test, which may include levying new sanctions on the North to choke off hard currency earnings by overseas workers.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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