North Korea 'preparing for fifth nuclear test'
North Korea is preparing for a fifth nuclear bomb test, amid reports of increased activity at the country's main nuclear test site, South Korea's president said.
In a regular meeting with her top adviser, president Park Geun-hye said on Monday that North Korea could carry out such a test to try to bolster morale as the country deals with tough international sanctions imposed after it conducted a fourth nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch earlier this year.
Park did not elaborate on what signs pointed to another nuclear test, but ordered the military to be ready to deal with any provocation by Pyongyang, according to media pool reports on the first part of the meeting posted on the website of her office.
Speculation about a fifth nuclear test increased last month when the North's state media cited leader Kim Jong Un as ordering a test of a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying warheads.
Kim's order came amid rising animosity with South Korea and the United States over their annual military drills that North Korea describes as an invasion rehearsal. The drills are set to run until next week.
Analysts say an atomic test could happen before North Korea holds a landmark ruling Workers' Party congress in early May so that Kim can burnish his image as a powerful leader at home and further cement his grip on power.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Monday that South Korean and US authorities detected two to three times more vehicle and personnel activities than normal this month at the North's north-east Punggye-ri nuclear test site - where all previous four bomb tests took place.
A US website that monitors sensitive sites in North Korea said Friday that it saw further signs from satellite imagery that the North was looking to produce more plutonium for nuclear weapons at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, north of Pyongyang.
Earlier last week, the website 38 North said recent satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri area showed little evidence that Pyongyang was planning a nuclear test, though it added that the country may be able to carry out a test on short notice.