South Korea’s Park says North is preparing 5th nuclear test

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s president said Monday there are signs that North Korea is preparing a fifth nuclear bomb test amid reports of increased brisk activity at the country’s main nuclear test site.

President Park Geun-hye told her top advisers that North Korea could carry out such a test to try to bolster its internal solidarity amid tough international sanctions imposed after it conducted a fourth atomic test and rocket launch earlier this year.

Park didn’t 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 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.

Analysts say an atomic test could happen before the country holds a landmark ruling Workers’ Party congress in Pyongyang in early May. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Monday that South Korean and U.S. authorities detected two to three times more vehicle and personnel activities than normal this month at the North’s northeast nuclear test site — where all previous four bomb tests took place.

A fifth test could put North Korean scientists and engineers a step closer toward a goal of manufacturing a warhead small enough to place on a long-range missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.

South Korean defense officials say North Korea currently does not have a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile, although it has made strides in its weapons programs in recent years.

Last Friday, a North Korean missile launch meant to celebrate the birthday of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of Kim, ended in failure, U.S. officials said. South Korean media reports said the failed missile was a new, powerful mid-range missile that could theoretically place U.S. military bases in Asia within reach.