- South Korea claim their enemies are digging an underground tunnel to carry out a third nuclear test
- Dictatorship also preparing to launch long-range missile
- They have been warned NOT to launch rocket which could reach the U.S.
- North Korea insist they are only preparing a satellite to survey the countryside
PUBLISHED: 12:50 EST, 8 April 2012 | UPDATED: 10:59 EST, 9 April 2012
North Korea is digging a new underground tunnel as they apparently prepare to carry out a third nuclear test, according to South Korean intelligence officials.
Satellite images show that the final work is being carried out for a test at a site in Punggye-r, in the north-east of the country, where tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009.
The report was released as North Korea prepares to launch a long-range rocket that Washington and others say is a cover for testing missile technology that could be used to fire on the U.S.
They announced plans last month to launch an ‘observation satellite’ during mid-April celebrations as they mark 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.
Scroll down to see the potential route of the missile
Celebrations: North Korea announced plans last month to launch an observation satellite using a three-stage rocket during mid-April celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung
Anniversary: North Koreans walk in front of two portraits, one of founding leader Kim Il-Sung (L) and the other of his son Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang
Observers fear a repeat of 2009, when international criticism of the North’s last long-range rocket launch prompted Pyongyang to walk away from nuclear disarmament negotiations and, weeks later, conduct its second nuclear test.
The report by South Korean intelligence officials said: ‘North Korea is covertly preparing for a third nuclear test, which would be another grave provocation.
‘North Korea is digging up a new underground tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in addition to its existing two underground tunnels, and it has been confirmed that the excavation works are in the final stages.’
Dirt believed to have been brought from other areas is piled at the tunnel entrance, the report said, something experts say is needed to fill up tunnels before a nuclear test.
The dirt indicates there is a ‘high possibility’ that North Korea will stage a nuclear test as plugging tunnels was the final step taken during its two previous underground nuclear tests.
A group of journalists walk down a road in front of North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket which it is expected to fire in the middle of April
Opposition: A missile interceptor is set-up in Tokyo, Japan, as the Japanese prepare for North Korea to launch a test missile in a move they have condemned
Preparations: Mobile Patriot missile launchers are set up at a Japan Air Self-Defense Force in Japan as they prepare for North Korea’s rocket launch
The U.S., Japan, Britain and other nations have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, warning that firing the long-range rocket would violate U.N. resolutions and North Korea’s promise to refrain from engaging in nuclear and missile activity.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has unveiled the rocket which experts say is 130 feet long and equipped with boosters that would give it a range of 6,200 miles.
The U.S., Japan, Britain and other nations have urged the nation to cancel the launch, warning that firing it would not only violate U.N. resolutions but also North Korea’s promise to stop engaging in nuclear and missile activity.
A North Korean soldier stands at a check point seen from a train heading to North Phyongan Province where the test missile is being fired
All three stages of the missile are in position emblazoned with the North Korean flag.
Jang Myong Jin, general manager of the launch facility, said: ‘No matter what others say, we are doing this for peaceful purposes.
‘Our country has the right and also the obligation to develop satellites and launching vehicles’.
He said international space, aviation and maritime authorities had been advised of the launch but did not confirm the exact date or time.
It is thought the Unha-3 rocket is going to be fired sometime between April 12 and 16.
North Korea has tested two atomic devices, but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a warhead on a long-range missile.
Japan and South Korea, meanwhile, said they are prepared to shoot down any parts of the rocket that threaten to fall in their territory – a move North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned would be considered a declaration of war.
Kim Jong-un pays a visit to Unit 158 of the navy of the North Korean People’s Army
North Korean technicians check the Unha-3 rocket. North Korea says it’s to launch a satellite to survey the countryside
The launch is scheduled to take place three years after North Korea’s last announced attempt to send a satellite into space, a liftoff condemned by the U.N. Security Council. North Korea walked away from nuclear disarmament negotiations in protest, and conducted an atomic test weeks later that drew tightened U.N. sanctions.
It is meant to show that North Korea has become a powerful, prosperous nation, celebrate the centenary of founder Kim Il Sung’s birth, and usher in a new era under his grandson, Kim Jong Un, said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
‘North Korea needs to show some tangible achievements to its people to solidify Kim Jong Un’s leadership,’ he said. ‘North Korea intends to provide its people with a sense of pride.’
Kim Jong Un took power following the December death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, and is expected to assume more top posts during high-profile political and parliamentary meetings later this week – a step analysts say will formally complete the country’s second hereditary power transfer.
All three stages of the missile are in position emblazoned with the North Korean flag
Jang Myong Jin, director of West Sea Satellite Launch Site, introduces the launching process of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) during a guided media tour
Earlier launch: A rocket lifts off from Musudan-ri, North Korea, in 2009