South Korea has denied it has seen fresh signs of a pending North Korean nuclear test, despite earlier reports to the contrary. Meanwhile, tensions have risen as the North pulls all workers from a shared industrial area.
South Korea has denied claims that surfaced in a media report that it believed North Korea was showing signs of a pending nuclear test. A newspaper article, published Monday in the Joong Ilbo daily paper, quoted an unnamed senior South Korea official who said movements around an atomic test site were similar to movements that had occurred before previous tests.
"We found there had been no unusual movements that indicated [North Korea] wanted to carry out a nuclear test," a spokesman from the Defense Ministry said.
South Korea's Unification Minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, had also told a paramilitary committee on Monday that there were indications that Pyongyang was preparing a nuclear test.
According to The Associated Press, Ryoo has since distanced himself from these comments, saying he didn't recall making them and that he had misspoken.
Nuclear test possible at any time
The South Korean Defense Ministry added that while North Korea is in general capable of conducting a nuclear test at any time, there were no concrete indications that such a test - which would be the country's fourth - was imminent.
The last time North Korea conducted a nuclear test was in February. The move drew international condemnation and the United Nations issued increased sanctions against Pyongyang as a result.
The sanctions have prompted North Korea to steadily increase its threatening rhetoric against South Korea and the United States.
Most recently, North Korean authorities told foreign embassies that they could only vouch for their safety until April 10, adding to the speculation that North Korea is planning a missile launch.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made a fresh appeal to North Korea to show restraint on Monday as he arrived for a review of the Chemical Weapons Convention in The Hague.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea cannot go on like this, confronting and challenging the authority of the [UN] Security Council and the international community," Ban said, adding that making any threat regarding nuclear weapons is "not a game."
In a less threatening but still troubling move, North Korea announced on Monday that it was recalling all of its workers from the Kaesong industrial zone, a factory facility operated jointly by North and South Korea.
Pyongyang also announced that operations at the facility would be suspended while a review of further operations was conducted. Over 50,000 North Koreans are employed at the facility.
mz/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)
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