Recent satellite images show North Korea is digging a new underground tunnel in what appears to be preparation for a third nuclear test, according to South Korean intelligence officials.
The excavation at North Korea’s northeast Punggye-ri site, where nuclear tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009, is in its final stages, according to a report by intelligence officials.
Its release comes as North Korea prepares to launch a long-range rocket that Washington and others say is a cover for testing missile technology that could be used to fire on the US.
Observers fear a repeat of 2009, when international criticism of the North’s last long-range rocket launch prompted Pyongyang to walk away from nuclear disarmament negotiations and, weeks later, conduct its second nuclear test. A year later, 50 South Koreans were killed in attacks blamed on the North.
“North Korea is covertly preparing for a third nuclear test, which would be another grave provocation,” said the report, which cited US commercial satellite photographs taken on April 1. “North Korea is digging up a new underground tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in addition to its existing two underground tunnels, and it has been confirmed that the excavation works are in the final stages.”
Dirt believed to have been brought from other areas is piled at the tunnel entrance, the report said, something experts say is needed to fill up underground -tunnels before a nuclear test. The dirt indicates a “high possibility” North Korea will stage a nuclear test, the report said, because plugging tunnels was the final step taken during its two previous nuclear tests.
North Korea is counting down to the 100th anniversary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth with top-level meetings and a controversial rocket launch in the coming days to bolster his grandson’s credentials.
In an unprecedented move, North Korea on Sunday invited foreign journalists to its rocket launch site to try to persuade the world of its peaceful intentions.
Jang Myong-jin, head of North Korea’s Tongchang-ri space center in the far northwest, said it was -“really nonsense” to call the upcoming launch a disguised missile test.
A successful mission would -burnish the credentials of the young and untested new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The ruling party will tomorrow hold a rare special meeting expected to appoint Kim Jong-un as party general secretary in place of his late father.