South Korea and the US will hold a joint naval exercise next week, a report said yesterday, in a move seen as a warning to North Korea ahead of its widely expected nuclear test.
The three-day exercise involving a US nuclear submarine and other warships will begin tomorrow in the Sea of Japan (known as the “East Sea” in South Korea) off the South Korean port city of Pohang, Yonhap news agency reported.
“It will include anti-submarine and anti-air training, and maritime maneuvers,” a military official was quoted as saying in the report.
The exercise comes as tensions run high on the Korean peninsula, with Pyongyang threatening to carry out its third nuclear test in response to a tightening of UN sanctions after a long-range rocket launch it carried out in December last year.
The North said the launch was a scientific mission aimed at placing a satellite in orbit, but most of the world saw it as a disguised ballistic missile test.
Chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff General Jung Seung-jo said on Friday the drill aims to test combat readiness between Seoul and Washington while guarding against possible North Korean provocations involving submarines, Yonhap said.
A 6,900 tonne US nuclear submarine USS San Francisco and the 9,800 tonne USS Shiloh were being mobilized for the exercise.
“The presence of a US nuclear submarine here would itself serve as a message to North Korea,” Jung said.
North Korea has reportedly covered the entrance to a tunnel at its nuclear test site in an apparent effort to avoid satellite monitoring of its ongoing preparations for a possibly imminent detonation.
A camouflage net was placed on the tunnel entrance at Punggye-ri in northeastern North Korea, the site of the two previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
However, a government source in Seoul said that increased activity had been spotted at the site, which has three tunnel entrances and multiple support buildings.
“At a tunnel in the southern part of the test site in Punggye-ri, we’ve found that work presumed to be part of preparations for a nuclear test has entered its final stage,” the unnamed source told Yonhap yesterday.
“The North may conduct the test at either the western or southern tunnels. But the activities spotted near the southern one could be aimed at distracting us from the more likely place of the western tunnel,” the source added.
Pyongyang once again warned yesterday of the “toughest retaliation” over the tightening of UN sanctions, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.