World

S. Korea on alert as North prepares army celebration

North Korea to mark 85th foundation anniversary of its Korean People's Army on Tuesday

SEOUL/BEIJING: South Korea said yesterday it is on heightened alert ahead of another important anniversary in North Korea, with a large concentration of military hardware amassed on both sides of the border amid concerns about a new nuclear test by Pyongyang.

US officials said there was a higher than usual level of activity by Chinese bombers, signalling a possible heightened state of readiness by Beijing - North Korea's sole major ally.

But they played down the concern and left open a range of possible reasons.

In Russia, the RIA news agency reported a Kremlin spokesman as declining to comment on media reports that Russia was moving military hardware and troops towards its border with North Korea.

US and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that North Korea could soon stage another nuclear test in violation of United Nations sanctions - something the US and China have warned against.

North Korea marks the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People's Army on Tuesday, an important anniversary that comes at the end of major winter military drills, South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk Haeng said.

DUE TO MEET

Top envoys on North Korea from the US, South Korea and Japan are due to meet on Tuesday, South Korea's foreign ministry said, to "discuss plans to rein in North Korea's additional high-strength provocations, maximise pressure on the North and ensure China's constructive role in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue".

South Korea and the US have also been conducting annual joint military exercises, which North Korea routinely criticises as a prelude to invasion.

Mr Lee told a briefing: "It is a situation where a lot of exercise equipment is amassed in North Korea and also a lot of strategic assets are situated on the Korean peninsula because of the South Korea-US military drills.

"We are closely watching the situation and will not be letting our guard down."

US President Donald Trump on Thursday praised the Chinese efforts to rein in "the menace of North Korea", after North Korean state media warned the US of a "super-mighty preemptive strike".

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday that North Korea's rhetoric was provocative, but he has learned not to trust it.

Mr Trump told a news conference that "some very unusual moves have been made over the last two or three hours", and that he is confident Chinese President Xi Jinping would "try very hard" to pressure North Korea.

Mr Trump gave no indication of what the moves might be.

State-run China Daily said yesterday that there is optimism about persuading North Korea to end its pursuit of a nuclear programme without the use of force, "now that even the once tough-talking Mr Trump is on board for a peaceful solution".

ENTHUSIASM

"Beijing has demonstrated due enthusiasm for Washington's newfound interest in a diplomatic solution and willingness to work more closely with it," it said.

Meanwhile, some media in Russia's Far East cited residents as saying they have seen military hardware being moved towards North Korea, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said deployment of Russian troops inside Russia are not a public matter.- REUTERS

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