Korea raises alert during North’s anniversary

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Korea raises alert during North’s anniversary

South Korea was on increased military alert on Sunday as anticipation ran high about a possible North Korean launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile or another nuclear test to mark its important political anniversary.

Today is the 71st anniversary of the North’s Workers’ Party’s foundation, and according to the South Korean military, a general-level officer is currently overseeing the command and control center. The allied forces also reinforced their combined surveillance capabilities to closely monitor the situation in the North.

Pyongyang has a history of staging military provocations in time with political anniversaries. The regime conducted its first nuclear test on the eve of the Workers’ Party’s foundation anniversary in 2006. This year marks the 10th anniversary of its first nuclear test, fueling speculations that the young ruler Kim Jong-un is preparing a shocking event.

Speculations are high that the North will likely launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, as it has pursued both nuclear and missile technologies. It conducted the fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9, the anniversary of the North Korean regime’s foundation.

According to military sources, South Korean and U.S. militaries detected unusual activities in the Pungrye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyong Province and Dongchang-ri missile launch site in North Pyongan Province. Movements of a transporter erector launcher vehicle were also detected in Wonsan, Gangwon Province, where the North normally tests its short and mid-range missiles.

“We cannot pinpoint a particular timing,” a military official told the JoongAng Ilbo, “but we are preparing for all possible provocations.”

The website 38 North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, also said Saturday that activities were seen at the Dongchang-ri missile launch site. Based on the satellite imagery taken on Oct. 1, analysts at 38 North determined that a structure was built at the site and the North was hiding activities that take place underneath.

The North also hinted at its intention to fire a long-range missile. The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party, said Saturday that the country will continue “to open the path to conquer a vast space while securing the maximum level of transparency in compliance with international regulations and practice,” possibly a reference to plans to launch a satellite. Because the rocket technology used for a satellite and a long-range missile are essentially the same, the international community has banned the North from pursuing it.

It also insisted that no clause in the UN Charter or any other international law says weapons tests like nuclear tests or rocket launches pose threats to the peace and security of the international community, stressing that it will further strengthen “self-defense nuclear power in terms of quantity.”

Last month, the North also claimed that it successfully conducted a ground test of a new high-powered engine designed for a geostationary satellite. During the 200-second working test, a single engine’s thrust reached a force of 80 tons, the North said, which means it can lift an object that weighs 80 tons for 200 seconds, an improvement that brings the North closer to making a missile capable of flying across the Pacific to the U.S. mainland.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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