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SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — North Korea has finished preparations for a third nuclear test and is able to carry it out once it decides to do so, a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday. Other sources also indicate an upcoming nuclear test.
"Substantial preparations for the test have been made. We have information to suggest that all that remains is a political choice," a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry said during a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday. It follows increasing speculation in recent weeks that the North is preparing for a nuclear test.
Earlier this month, a report from South Korean intelligence officials said North Korea is likely preparing to carry out a nuclear test at Punggye-ri near the county of Kilju in North Hamgyong province, the site of the country's plutonium-fueled nuke tests in October 2006 and May 2009.
However, South Korean government officials also believed the North was preparing for a nuclear test in February 2011. "South Korea and U.S. intelligence authorities have spotted the North building a couple of additional tunnels in Punggye-ri. It's obvious that North Korea is preparing for a third nuclear test," a government source told the Yonhap news agency at the time. No nuclear test was carried out.
Six-party nuclear disarmament talks have been stalled since late 2008 due to North Korea's anger over United Nations (UN) sanctions. It was followed by a nuclear test in North Korea's North Hamgyong province on May 25, 2009, as well as a series of test-firings of missiles.
Tuesday's news comes a day after the North Korean military threatened to launch a 'nationwide sacred war' to wipe out South Korea. "The indignation of the army and people of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) at the group of rat-like (South Korean President) Lee Myung Bak is running high," a statement from the North Korean military said on Monday, referring to the North's official name. "Shouts such as "Destroy," Beat to death" and "Tear to death" are ringing out on this land."
North Korea has repeatedly threatened to launch attacks against the South in recent years, but Monday's announcement was made more prominently than previous threats. The North's state-run television broke into programming to make what it described as a 'special announcement.'
"The special actions of our revolutionary armed forces will start soon to meet the reckless challenge of the group of traitors," the North's military said in its statement. "Those actions are an eruption of the public anger and resentment and a sacred war of all service personnel and people to protect the dignity of our supreme leadership. Their targets are the Lee Myung Bak group of traitors, the arch criminals, and the group of rat-like elements including conservative media destroying the mainstay of the fair public opinion."
On Sunday, a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry called South Korean President Lee "human scum" and also indicated the country would attack the South. "The service personnel and people of the DPRK are shaking with irrepressible resentment at the group which defamed the father of the nation whom they are holding in high esteem as the sun," the spokesman said. "They are now eagerly waiting for the issue of an order so that they may mercilessly punish the traitor."
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which remains in a technical state of war, have been at critical since the 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean Navy ship carrying 104 people. The incident left 46 people killed and a South Korean-led international investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo which was allegedly fired from a midget submarine, although the North insists it was not responsible.
Months after the sinking of the ship, North Korean forces bombarded the disputed Yeonpyeong Island. The artillery engagement from the North, which claims it acted in 'self-defense', left two South Korean civilians killed while the South's return fire killed at least five people in North Korea.
Earlier this month, North Korea attempted to launch the Kwangmyongsong-3 (Bright Star-3) weather satellite on a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile to mark Kim Il-sung's birth anniversary, but the missile failed about a minute after takeoff and crashed in the Yellow Sea. The international community strongly condemned the attempt.
The 1950-1953 Korean War, which left millions of people killed, ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.