South Korea plays down suggestion of nuclear test by the North
Nuclear conflict would make Chernobyl seem like a fairytale, says Putin
A South Korean soldier at a military guard post near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas in the border city of Paju at the weekend. Photograph: Jung Yeon-je/AFP Photo/Getty
U.S. soldiers arrive for their military training near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North Korea from South Korea in Paju, north of Seoul April 8, 2013. Pyongyang has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2 million-strong army for war, indicating the threats are partly intended for domestic purposes to bolster Kim Jong-Un, the third in his family dynasty to rule North Korea. South Korea's Defence Ministry says it believes new nuclear test is not imminent in North Korea. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS)
A South Korean soldier sets up a barricade at a checkpoint on the Grand Unification Bridge, which leads to the demilitarized zone separating North Korea from South Korea, in Paju, north of Seoul today. Photograph: Reuters
South Korea's Defence Ministry has denied suggestions that a nuclear arms test was imminent in North Korea, saying reported movements around the reclusive country's atomic site were routine, contradicting earlier government comments.
The denial came as North Korea suspended its only remaining joint project with the South and as Russian president Vladimir Putin said any nuclear conflict resulting from the hostilities would make Chernobyl seem like a fairytale.
Speculation has been mounting that North Korea will launch some sort of provocative action in coming days - an arms test or a missile launch - after weeks of bellicose threats against the South and the United States.
The prospect of another test would have boosted tension, already driven up by Pyongyang's fury over the imposition of new US sanctions after its last nuclear test in February.
“We found there had been no unusual movements that indicated it wanted to carry out a nuclear test,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said.
South Korea's unification minister, responding to a newspaper report, had earlier said movements did point to a test.
“I can only say there are such signs,” Ryoo Kihi-jae told a parliamentary committee, while declining to give details.
The JoongAng Ilbo daily, quoting a senior South Korean government official, had reported that movement of manpower and vehicles at the Punggye-ri test site was similar to that observed before the February blast.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has urged North Korea not to carry out a new nuclear test, saying it would be a “provocative” act.
Speaking during a visit to the Netherlands today, Mr Ban said he had no further information on the reports from Seoul, but called on North Korea not to carry out another test, saying it would breach Security Council resolutions.
“The DPRK (North Korea) cannot go on like this, confronting and challenging the authority of the Security Council and directly challenging the whole international community,” Mr Ban said in a news conference in the Hague, according to a transcript sent by the United Nations office in Geneva.
He said he was aware of reports of possible preparations for a nuclear test but had no specific information.
Meanwhile, North Korea has today suspended its sole remaining major project with the South, Kaesong industrial park, after weeks of threats against the US and South Korea.
Also today, the Russian president said conflict on the peninsula could cause greater devastation than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
"I would make no secret about it, we are worried about the escalation on the Korean peninsula, because we are neighbours," he told a joint news conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to a trade fair in Germany.
"And if, God forbid, something happens, Chernobyl, which we all know a lot about, may seem like a child's fairytale.
“Is there such a threat or not? I think there is... I would urge everyone to calm down... and start to resolve the problems that have piled up for many years there at the negotiating table."
North Korean statements have also irritated China, the North's sole diplomatic and financial backer. Leaders in Beijing, in scarcely veiled criticism of the North, have in recent days said they would tolerate no “trouble-making” on their border.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing wanted to see nuclear-free peace on the peninsula and said it was the responsibility of all parties to work towards it. Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a Beijing briefing that China “believes that the only way to realise denuclearisation is dialogue among all the parties concerned”.
Pyongyang has moved what appeared to be a mid-range Musudan missile to its east coast, according to media reports last week. US secretary of state John Kerry visits Seoul this week and the North holds celebrations and possibly military demonstrations next Monday to mark the birth date of its founder, Kim Il-Sung - grandfather of the current leader, 30-year-old Kim Jong-un.
Moody's credit rating agency said in a report today that the rise in North Korean rhetoric and the re-starting of a nuclear plant to make fissile material had made the current situation "more dangerous" and negative for South Korean assets.