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S. Korea on alert for NK provocation

South Korea is on the alert for possible military provocation by North Korea ahead of the communist ruling party’s foundation day next Monday.

According to Seoul officials, the South’s military is on stand-by for a show of force by Pyongyang – an underground nuclear test or a missile launch is seen as most likely -- to mark the Oct. 10 anniversary. The hermit kingdom has a history of marking ceremonious occasions with prominent military actions. 

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lee Sun-jin and other JCS officials take an oath prior to attending the parliamentary hearing Friday at the National Assembly. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lee Sun-jin and other JCS officials take an oath prior to attending the parliamentary hearing Friday at the National Assembly. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

“The government is keeping an eye on the situation, and is prepared to respond to anything,” said the Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee.

The North is basically ready to carry a nuclear test at any time, he said, although no particular sign of a new test has been observed as of now.

North Korea, in defiance of international talks and sanctions, has been developing nuclear weapons and missiles to carry them as far as to the US mainland. It has conducted five nuclear tests so far, two this year, along with several test-firings of missiles. The latest and biggest nuclear test took place last month on the anniversary of the nation’s founding.

Although not a divisive evidence of any, an increase in activity in North Korea’s military sites has been detected, various sources said.

Earlier Friday, a government official told local media that the Seoul-Washington alliance believes the North to be preparing a long-range rocket launch around Monday.

The official said that there has been increased activity around the missile launch site in Dongchang-ri, located in the country’s northwest.

“There is a possibility that the North may test-fire the new rocket engine revealed last month, but we need more analysis to see if it is actually ready,” the official was quoted as saying.

Last month, it claimed to have successfully conducted a ground test of its new rocket engine for a satellite launch, which the military believes to be a means to complete its intercontinental ballistic missile program.

Jack Liu of 38 North, a North Korea-monitoring website, said in his analysis that Oct. 1 satellite images of Pyongyang’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site indicate continuing activity at all tunnel complexes that could be used for a nuclear test.

He said an activity at the north portal may be to collect information on the Sept. 9 nuclear test but other purposes cannot be ruled out, which includes preparations related to a new test.

An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the regime only lacked the “political resolve” for it to pull the trigger on the nuclear test.

“We have consistently said that the North is near the final stage of nuclear armament, which does not mean the deployment stage,” he said.

He added that South Korea was working on possible countermeasures, such as unilateral economic sanctions like those on the North that took effect on March 8.

“In terms of unilateral sanction, it is not just us. That was the key message of the meeting between South Korea, the US, and Japan’s foreign ministers on Sept. 18. We are fine-tuning the content and timing (of the actions),” the official sad.

JCS chief Lee Sun-jin said during a parliamentary audit Friday that the military was reviewing models for an advanced maritime patrol aircraft project, started after North Korea’s 2010 sinking of warship Cheonan.

“We (the military) recently reviewed the model we had planned to acquire, but there has been suggestion that an even more advanced model is needed in light of severe submarine-launched ballistic missile threats from North Korea,” he said.

North Korea in August celebrated its first successful test-firing of an SLBM, with 38 North suggesting that it may be building larger submarines for missile launches.

By Yoon Min-sik
Korea Herald Youtube