'More activity' at North Korea nuclear test site

A North Korean soldier looks on at the South side at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas on 12 March 2014 North Korea has carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, despite international condemnation

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Activity has increased at North Korea's nuclear test site, South Korea says, ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama to the region.

The military was "currently detecting a lot of activity in and around the Punggye-ri nuclear test site", a South Korean defence ministry spokesman said.

North Korea could be planning to hold a "surprise nuclear test or just pretend to stage a nuclear test", he said.

North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests in the past.

South Korea's foreign minister warned of the dangers of another.

"If North Korea goes ahead with another nuclear test as it has publicly warned, it will be a game changer," Yun Byung-se said.

'New form'

North Korea's most recent test was in February 2013 - an incident that triggered several months of severe tension on the Korean peninsula.

N Korea satellite map of nuclear test site
N Korea's nuclear test sites

It also carried out tests in 2006 and 2009.

All of the tests - which were signposted well in advance - resulted in the imposition of UN sanctions on Pyongyang.

North Korean nuclear tests

  • Three underground nuclear tests have been carried out by North Korea, in 2006, 2009 and 2013
  • The first two tests were believed to have used plutonium, but it is not clear whether or not the third test used uranium as the fissile material
  • North Korea is thought to have enough nuclear material for a small number of bombs, but not the technology to make a nuclear warhead
  • Multiple rounds of multi-national talks have failed to convince Pyongyang categorically to commit to giving up its nuclear ambitions

UN Security Council resolution 1718, passed in October 2006 after the first nuclear test, bans North Korea from nuclear and missile tests.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff on Monday set up a special task force to monitor the situation, the spokesman said.

Multinational talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions have been stalled for years.

Late last month, North Korea threatened to carry out a "new form" of nuclear test. It is not clear what that means.

While Pyongyang has tested devices, it is not yet believed to have mastered the process of making a nuclear warhead small enough to deliver via a missile.

Mr Obama is due to arrive in South Korea on Friday, after a three-day visit to Japan.

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